The Achilles tendon, also called the calcaneal tendon, connects the back of the heel to the leg muscles of the calf. It allows a person to flex the ankle, allowing him to walk, run, jump, and walk on the toes. The human body has many tendons that allow people to move, but this one is the largest, thickest, and strongest. It may need to support all of the body's weight, and during strenuous activities, it may be responsible for handling up to three to five times a person's normal weight.
This tendon is easily injured, especially in athletes. It can also be injured during routine and simple exercises when a person fails to stretch or warm up properly. An injury involving the Achilles tendon is extremely painful and requires a long period of time to heal.
The most common injuries to the tendon are tendinitis and a tendon rupture. Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendon characterized by soreness, stiffness, general pain, and localized fatigue. It is usually caused by overuse or misuse of the tendon, but it can be due to many different factors. Tendinitis progressively worsens if it is not treated.
A ruptured Achilles tendon is a partial or complete tear of the tissue. When this happens, a person will experience excruciating pain and be completely unable to move the foot in the case of a complete tear. A ruptured tendon is most common in athletes who quickly increase their physical exertion and in non-athletes who suffer an accident.
This tendon is named for a mythological hero in Homer’s Illiad, a famous ancient Greek epic poem. As a baby, a warrior named Achilles was bathed by his mother in a magical river that promised immortality. He became virtually invincible except for his ankle. Because his mother grasped his ankle as she dangled him in the water, this part of his body remained unexposed and vulnerable. A fatal wound to Achilles' tendon in a battle for Troy was the cause of his death.