The Achilles Tendon – Ways to Help Protect It

This article is about ways to take care of the Achilles tendon.  According to the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF), among all the injuries that occur in kendo, Achilles tendon-related injuries are the most prevalent at 10.4% [AJKF_InjuryStats]  [AJKF_AchillesInjuries] – based on this book published in 2014 [AJKF_MedicalQ&A].  To keep things in perspective, the  frequency of injuries in Japan associated with kendo seems significantly smaller relative to that found in many sports according to [AJKF_InjuryStats]  [Kanagawa_Stats].  A study in the U.S. published in 2015 shows similar results [Schultzel_KendoInjuries].

With respect to the cause of such injuries, according to [Kendo-Practice_Achilles] (in Japanese),:

  • I think that the main causes (of Achilles-tendon related injuries) include: “fatigue accumulated around the Achilles tendon from daily training”, “fumikomi when executing a waza,” and “the sudden change of direction during kakari-geiko etc.”
    • 主な原因として「日々の訓練の積み重ねにより、アキレス腱・アキレス腱周辺に疲労が溜まった時」「技を決めるときの踏込み時やかかり稽古等での急な方向転換時」などがあげられると思います.

And according to this study of Japanese junior and high school students practicing kendo [Kisi_AchillesKendo], Achilles tendon ruptures “tend to occur when Kendo players make a lunge step forward from the rear position (the fumikomi, I believe) because they assume a ready position with the left foot placed backward the right foot forward.”

My interest in this stems from two recent events.  I hurt the Achilles tendon area of my foot (not from kendo incidentally).  Second, a sensei  ruptured his Achilles tendon during a shiai.

Here’s a compilation of some ways to help protect the Achilles tendon:

  • Massage Therapy
  • Warm-up Exercises
  • Stretches
  • An “Achilles tendon-friendly” Fumikomi
  • Other Approaches and Resources
  • References

Please see the disclaimer below.*

Probably the most important advice is to rest the foot if it hurts.  And more generally to listen to the body as described in more detail by Masahiro Imafuji sensei in [Kendo-Guide_Healthy].  Words of wisdom.

Take care of those Achilles tendons!


Massage Therapy


Warm-up Exercises

  • Make sure to warm up the calf muscles prior to a vigorous practice and/or stretching.
    • This can be done with light footwork e.g. walking, jogging, skipping, squats, suri-ashi, burpees, fumikomi, hopping.

Stretches

It’s probably best to try these slowly and gently at first while avoiding any strain or over-doing it.

  • The “Standard” standing  stretch with the rear leg extended back behind the front leg with the calf muscle and heel stretched.
    • I find that I can get a deeper stretch  by pushing against a wall with my arms as shown from 0:30 mins in [AskDoctorJo_Achilles].
  • Heel raises.
  • Extended heel raises while standing on a stair ledge and holding on to a rail for support [Dubail_Achilles, 0:45min] with one or two legs [Bupa_Achilles].
  • Yoga poses
    • The “downward dog” with alternate extensions of the two heels [SportsWebPT_CalfStretch].
    • The forward fold where the front paws of the feet are elevated (e.g. by resting the front paws on a yoga mat and the heels on the ground) [CarolAnn Achilles].

An “Achilles tendon-friendly” Fumikomi

  • This technique, which also can be used as a form of seme and taught by Nakamura sensei, is described in [KendoNotes ShinkansenFumikomi].
    • This approach is much gentler on the Achilles tendon as it requires a more even and gradual (rather than an instantaneous and sudden) push from the rear foot.
    • It instead focuses on the  hikitsuke – the quick pull of the rear leg and body forward by the forward leg when the forward foot lands.
    • I have found this technique very helpful and easier on my rear foot.

Other Approaches and Resources

  •  Taping
    • There are many articles and videos explaining this approach including [AJKF_Taping]  [Pygeorge_TapingVideo].
    • This study [Tsai_AchillesTaping] recommends Athletic Taping (AT) of the Achilles tendon “to protect the Achilles tendon” and Kinesio-Tex Taping (KT) of the Achilles tendon “to speed up kendo striking motion.”
    • I have yet to try this.
  • Achilles Tendon Support
    • There are a number of products for supporting the Achilles Tendon including one designed for kendo.  This may be a faster and re-usable alternative to taping.  The reviews seem positive.
  • General articles on the Achilles tendon

* Disclaimer:  the content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


References

[AJKF_AchillesInjuries] 高弊 民雄(たてやま整形外科クリニック院長)[アキレス腱の断裂―剣道ではアキレス腱の損傷が多い―], 12/2014  Tamio Takayoshi (Director, Tateyama Orthopedic Clinic), Achilles Tendon Rupture – Achilles Tendon is Often Damaged in Kendo, Dec 2014.

[AJKF_InjuryStats] Ken Sasaki, Injuries and obstacles that occur during Kendo training and matches, AJKF, Oct 2014 (Google Translated Version).  佐々木 健, 剣道稽古・試合中におこる外傷と障害, 2014/10 (Original in Japanese)

[AJKF_MedicalQ&A] Medical Q&A for Kendo [Japanese], AJKF, Dec. 25, 2014.

[AJKF_Taping] Yasumasa Yoshida, “Taping in practice – The point of proper taping,” Dec. 2014.  吉田 泰将(慶應義塾大学体育研究所准教授)”テーピングの実際 ― 正しいまき方のポイント―”

[AskDoctorJo_Achilles] AskDoctorJo, “Achilles Tendon Stretches – Ask Dcoctor Jo,” March 18, 2013.

[Bupa_Achilles] Bupa UK, Achilles tendon strengthening exercise, 0:57 mins.

[Carey_Calf] Silas Carey, “Calf Muscle Tightness, Achilles Tendon Length and Lower Leg Injury,” Mountain Peak Fitness, Jan 28, 2016.

[CarolAnn_Achilles] CarolAnn, “Yoga & the Achilles Tendon,” eHowFitness, May 26, 2015, 1:50mins.

[Dubail_Achilles] David Dubail, “Exercise & Fitness Tips: How to Strengthen the Achilles Tendon,” eHowFitness, Mar 29, 2010 (2:14mins).

[Duke_Achilles] Duke Chiropractic, “Preventing Achilles Tendonitis with Foam Rollers and Massage Balls,” May 5, 2015 (5:24 mins).

[Human_Achilles] Human 2.0, “Achilles Stretches Routine | flexibility exercises to help prevent Achilles tendinitis | Human 2.0, Jun 18, 2019 (10:43 mins).

[Kanagawa_Stats] 2010 Kanagawa Prefectural Physical Education Center Research Report, “Study on sports injury prevention training menu for junior and senior high school athletes,” 平成22年度 神奈川県立体育センター研究報告書 中学校・高等学校期競技者のための スポーツ傷害予防トレーニングメニューの研究 (PDF, 43 pages)

[Kaselj_Achilles] Rick Kaselj, “What Causes Achilles Tendonitis and How to Prevent and Treat It,” ExercisesForInjuries, Aug 1, 2018.

[Kendo-Guide_Healthy] Masahiro Imafuji, “Can Kendo Make Me Healthy or Does It Hurt Me?” Kendo-Guide.com.

[Kendo-Practice_Achilles] 剣道家の大敵「アキレス腱断裂」の予防法 (Ways to Prevent the Big Enemy of Kendoka – ‘Achilles Tendon Rupture’), Kendo-Practice, Jan 30, 2016.  (English Translation)

[KendoNotes_ShinkansenFumikomi] “Walking as if Kissing the Earth –  for a Shinkansen-like Fumimkomi and Seme,” KendoNotes.com, May 10, 2018.

[Kisi_AchillesKendo] Shinya Kisi et al., “Achilles tendon injury in kendo players in junior and senior high schools: with a focus on foot function,” The Journal of Physical Therapy Science,” 2017. (PDF, 5 pages)

[Lexsport_Tutorial] Lexsport, “Tutorial – Releasing the achilles tendon / calf using a massage ball (22), Nov 21, 2016, 0:07 secs.

[Naples_Achilles] Naples CycleBar, “Achilles Tendinitis relieve by Foam Rolling,” 4:09 mins.

[Pygeorge_TapingVideo] Scott Pygeorge, “Achilles taping,” Jun 1, 2017 (5:07 mins).

[Schultzel_KendoInjuries] Mark Schultzel et al., “The prevalence of injury in Kendo,” The Physician and sports medicine 44(1), Nov. 2015.

[SportsWebPT_CalfStretch] SportsWebPT, “Calf Stretch – Downward Dog,” Mar 16, 2014, 0:50 mins.  

[Sundial_Achilles] Sundial Clinics, “Achilles Tendonitis – exercises to do at home,” Sept 5, 2012.

[Tsai_AchillesTaping] Feng-Hua Tsai et al., “Effects of Taping on Achilles Tendon Protection and Kendo Performance,” Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 2016.

Copyright 2019 KendoNotes.com

 

 

 

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