Down for the Count: Using a Leg Elevation Pillow and Other Treatments for Achilles Tendon Injury
Achilles tendon injuries are no laughing matter. As we learned from the Greek god Achilles, this tendon is particularly sensitive and, if ancient mythology is any indicator, injuring it could lead to your inevitable downfall. While Achilles’ tale was just a myth, injuries to the Achilles tendon can be very real, causing pain, swelling and impaired movement. Those who suffer from tears, ruptures, tendinitis or other conditions that affect the tendon may be down for the count for long periods of time, forced to undergo weeks of immobilization and maybe even surgery.
Our feet and legs are constantly in use, and frequent activity can take its toll. Often, Achilles tendon injuries occur due to overuse, inflaming the tendon and causing stiffness and pain. People who start new sports, quickly increase their physical activity level or work out with tight muscles often experience injuries to this tendon. Other factors, including ill-fitting tennis shoes and working out on uneven surfaces, can trigger tendinitis, tears and ruptures.
So how do you know if you have damaged your Achilles tendon? The most common symptom is pain, especially pain that runs down the back of the leg or near the heel. You’ll also experience stiffness, soreness and increased pain during and after exercising. If you suspect you’ve injured your Achilles tendon, check for thickening. If all or parts of one tendon are thicker compared with the one on your other foot, you may have an injury. The best way to determine if there’s damage to the tendon is to see a physician for a physical evaluation.
While treatment plans for Achilles tendon injuries vary greatly based on the particular injury and its severity, there are a few treatment pillars that should be applied across the board, including:
- Be Non-Weightbearing—The first thing to do if you suspect that you’ve injured the Achilles tendon is to do your best to eliminate putting pressure on it or any foot and leg muscles that may have overcompensated during bouts of pain or stiffness. If the injury is severe, your doctor may recommend using crutches, a knee scooter or other non-weightbearing solutions during the immediate or prolonged healing period.
- Elevate the Leg as Needed—Like most orthopedic injuries, the RICE Method—rest, ice, compression and elevation—can be extremely beneficial when treating injuries of the Achilles tendon. Using a leg elevation wedge will help you achieve the elevation portion so that your leg is propped up at the proper angle to encourage drainage of excess fluid, helping to treat swelling and pain. A proper leg rest pillow will place the injury above the heart at the safest grade, so it’s usually a better choice than regular pillows or cushions you’d find at home.
- Reduce Pain with Ice–In addition to using an elevating leg rest pillow, follow the RICE Method by regularly icing the tendon. In the initial period following injury, ideally within 72 hours–as well as after exercise–you should be icing for 10 to 20 minutes at a time to reduce inflammation. Because the heel and back of the ankle are particularly awkward places to ice, you can use an ice bath or a cold compress with a strap for a closer fit.
- Wear a Compression Sock—Don’t forget the “C” in RICE—compression. This is important because it improves blood flow to the injury, reducing pain and swelling, while light pressure provides some relief from pain and decreases the passage of fluid that causes swelling. Wearing compression socks while you work out or rest post-exercise can deliver all of these benefits. We recommend choosing a compression sock rather than a sleeve for maximum support at the Achilles tendon.
- Treat it with OTC Medications—Last but not least, don’t be afraid to supplement your treatment with safe, over-the-counter medications. Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and naproxen will help reduce pain and swelling, providing temporary relief. Make sure that you’re still conscious of your injury while medicated, even if you’re not in pain, to avoid worsening it.
These kinds of injuries are never pleasant—just ask the Greek gods themselves!—but with the right knowledge, you’ll make a full recovery and be back to your regular activity in no time. If you feel that these treatments aren’t working, or if you believe that your injury is particularly severe, make sure to consult with your doctor before treating at home.