Achilles tendonitis can feel like you’ve had an arrow laser-beamed into the back of your foot just like the legendary Greek warrior (Brad Pitt as Achilles in “Troy,” anyone?).
So how long does it actually take to properly heal?
Achilles tendonitis usually takes anywhere from a couple weeks to 6 months to heal, but that heavily depends on things like your current activity needs and level of injury.
So yeah, that’s not a super clear time-frame…
Luckily, we can get a pretty good idea of how long it’ll take to get you back on your feet (pain-free) by looking at some specific factors in your injury.
Let me explain all that and help you figure out where YOU stand on the recovery-time-scale, and show you how to speed up the healing so you can get back to slaying Trojans ASAP!
What Factors Affect Achilles Tendonitis Recovery Time?
Achilles tendonitis is such a unique injury from person-to-person because we all use our feet in different ways and in different amounts.
That means we need to get a clear picture of the things that affect recovery time, which include:
- Intensity Of Injury — Simple math here: the more injured that tendon is the longer it usually takes to heal.
- Current Workload Required — Are you a construction worker? Training for a marathon? Working as a desk jockey? The more painful activity you are forced to do repeatedly the more it’ll affect recovery time.
- Off-Season vs. In-Season — If you’re in the heat of your sports season, it’ll be trickier to rest the Achilles tendon as compared to being in the off-season.
- Time Spent Injured — Injuries are usually divided into the three groups of acute (onset of pain to 1 week), subacute (2 weeks to 3 months), and chronic (+3 months). The longer the injury has been around the longer it generally takes to heal.
- Current Activities — Did you recently start any new sports or activities? Certain exercises can put some unfamiliar stresses on the tendon, potentially affecting recovery time.
- Age — I hate to say it, but the older we get the longer we take to heal (oh to be 20 again…)
- Sleep — A great way to shoot yourself in the foot (or heel??) for recovery is to get less than 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Get your Z’s!
- Overweight — Your feet have to carry a lot of weight, and adding more is going to affect how much extra load that the tendon has to deal with.1https://bmcmusculoskeletdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2474-11-41
I want to mention that all these factors add on top of each other to affect recovery time, which means that if you’ve spent 4 months with Achilles tendonitis but also only sleep 5 hours a night, you’re exponentially hurting your recovery time.
Will Achilles Tendonitis Heal On Its Own?
This is a tricky one: sometimes yes, sometimes no.
And I hate giving the “it depends” answer as a physiotherapist, especially since it’s not a very helpful answer when you’re trying to get back to embarrassing your opponents in your next soccer match or enjoying a jog outside with nicer running weather finally coming back (unless you’re like me in Canada with snow still up to your knees…HELP).
Before I confuse you any further, look at it this way:
Imagine that the Achilles tendon is like a magical self-cleaning spring.
Tendonitis is like an evil curse that adds rust, stiffening up that spring and causing it to get angry at you every time you try to do anything “springy” with it (I know, real descriptive word).
Usually, the spring can keep up with small amounts of rust and clean it off by itself with a little rest and time.
However, the more rust that gets on it, the more likely you’ll have to get some oil or WD-40 on it to help because it can’t self-clean fast enough to kill the relentless spring-eating-rust-curse.
You have a much better chance of recovering with just some rest if your Achilles tendonitis is minor and you catch it early before it gets painful with normal activities, otherwise you’ll need to do something for it (more on that later).
How Do I Know If My Achilles Tendon Is Healing?
If you’re able to do activity with less intense pain than normal, or the pain comes on later than usual when doing an activity, that’s a good sign that your Achilles tendonitis is healing.
For example, if you usually jog for 5 minutes before the pain shows up in your Achilles tendon, but now you can jog for 7 minutes, that’s improvement!
Here a couple more signs:
- Improved Range Of Motion — When you’re able to move your ankle up and down further PAIN-FREE then you’re on the right track.
- Morning Pain — Your Achilles will often hurt worse in the mornings, so that’s another area to look for progress in.
- Better Tolerance — Similar to what I mentioned above with activities (like walking or sports), but tolerating anything better such as certain types of shoes (like running shoes vs. Birkenstocks).
- Less Medication — If you can ditch the painkillers and anti-inflammatories without the pain jumping up, that’s a good sign that the Achilles tendon is healing.
How To Help Achilles Tendonitis Heal Faster?
One of the biggest things you can do here is focus on activity modification.
This is real simple: if doing something hurts, don’t do it to the point where it hurts!
Think of something that flares up your tendon every time you do it — let’s use soccer as an example.
If you run (for numbers sake) 40 minutes a game, and you’re in agony at that point, DON’T RUN FOR 40 MINUTES!
I know this is easier said than done, but finding out where your limitations are and staying below them is a good way to let the tendon calm down — from there, do some load management and slowly re-introduce more work as tolerated.
You could even modify the way you do an activity, like switching up your squat stance if that’s bugging you.
Also be sure to read this article for a list of exercises you should avoid if you have Achilles tendonitis.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some other important things that help:
- Exercises — Eccentrics and isometrics are your best friend here initially. This all depends on where you’re at in the healing stage and how bad your tendonitis is, but you can’t go wrong getting strong (within tolerance, of course). Start slow, and build up reps and weight.
- Avoiding Painful Activities — If you had a scab on your arm, you wouldn’t expect it to heal any faster if you keep scratching it open over-and-over, right? Same principle here. Stop picking the scab and let it rest.
- Modalities — Using ice/heat to help calm things down, and massaging the muscles surrounding the Achilles tendon will help it move much smoother, improving recovery.
- Proper Shoes — This might take some experimenting, but finding a pair of supportive shoes that cushion your steps can help heal tendonitis faster. Heel lifts and orthotics could also be helpful.
- Water Intake — Make sure to stay hydrated! This will help flush out that nasty inflammation.
- Warm Up — Spend some time stretching out and getting some blood flowing in your calves before you go do any activity.
- Running On Different Surfaces — Switch out that hard concrete for some soft grass. Softer surfaces will put less stress through your Achilles tendon.
- Sleep — Your body goes into repair mode when you sleep, make sure to give it a solid 7-8 hours.
- Follow A Plan — You should follow a progressive plan when it comes to exercises and activity modification so that you bridge the gap from “feeling good” to “functioning pain-free.”
I know this all sounds like a lot of work, but being consistent and following a good plan will have your Achilles tendon thanking you and bulletproof it from more pain down the road.
What Is The Fastest Way To Heal Achilles Tendonitis?
Patience is a virtue…but who needs virtue when our Achilles feels like it’s out to stop us from enjoying any sort of activity?
Everyone has a different recovery timeline with Achilles tendonitis — and patience IS important — but get in the fast lane of recovery by following these 3 steps:
- Avoid Aggravating Activities — Don’t poke the bear over-and-over. If something bugs your Achilles tendon, dial it back from that activity.
- Strengthen The Tendon — You NEED to strengthen that tendon through exercises. Luckily there are lots of ways to do that without causing pain or more damage, often by using eccentric and isometric exercises.
- Optimize Your Body’s Recovery — Hydrate often, sleep well, and take care of your nutrition. Your body is a machine: give it the tools it needs so that it can repair things properly.
Achilles tendonitis can take anywhere from a couple days to several months to heal, which all depends on how bad your injury is, how long you’ve been dealing with it, and what your current workload requirements are.
It’s unfortunate that there’s such a variable timeline, but take the small wins as they come — look for the small increases in movement, the decreases in pain intensity, and the improvements in your function.
Doing the small things like getting enough rest, hydrating, strengthening the tendon, and modifying painful activities will speed the whole process along, getting you back to doing the things you love pain-free!