Elliptical machines are an excellent way to stay in shape. They provide low impact workouts that still allow you to meet your cardio goals from the comfort of your own home. But is elliptical bad for Achilles tendonitis?
Find out the best way to recover from this overuse injury with this guide, along with which exercise machines are the safest options to continue exercising with.
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Achilles Tendonitis Overview (Symptoms, Causes & Rehab)
The Achilles tendon can be found along the back of your leg, running right down to your ankle, connecting to your Calcaneus, or heel bone. In Greek legend, it was this tendon that caused the downfall of none other than Achilles.
This tendon plays a critical role in foot flexion, making it as important as the name suggests.
Unfortunately, injuries to the Achilles tendon are common, as it is often overused during exercise and sports training. We need it for all movements involving our legs. It is generally a pretty strong tendon, but unfortunately, it is not invincible like its namesake.
If the tendon becomes inflamed or otherwise irritated, it is called Achilles tendonitis. Inflammation is a body response to an injury or ailment, and can also include swelling, irritation, and pain. There are two variations of Achilles tendonitis, as different parts of the tendon may become inflamed.
Noninsertional Achilles tendonitis affects the middle of the tendon. It occurs when the fibers there start breaking down and develop tiny tears or signs of degeneration, along with swelling and thickening. This kind is common for young people with an active lifestyle.
Insertional Achilles tendonitis happens on the bottom of the tendon, where it connects to the heel bone. With the insertional variation, the growth of bone spurs - extra bone developing on the heel bone, is common. This kind of injury can happen even if a person isn’t as active. But many cases affect long-term athletes, particularly runners. Both variations may also see the damaged fibers harden and calcify.
A more severe injury to your Achilles’ tendon is a rupture. If you feel a sudden pop to the back of your leg and cannot move your foot downwards, it may mean you have completely or nearly completely torn your tendon and will need to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury and may be triggered by attempting to push yourself further while exercising. Increasing workout time and intensity could also result in an injury like this. Tight muscles and bone spur development are other stresses on the tendon that could lead to tendonitis.
If a doctor does diagnose you with Achilles tendonitis, there are treatment options available. A non-surgical route will involve rest, ice, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. It is recommended that high-impact exercise is stopped and swapped for low impact alternatives, such as elliptical machines or swimming. Depending on how soon after the injury you receive treatment, it may take between 3 - 6 months for the symptoms to ease.
Surgery may be necessary if you are still experiencing pain 6 months later. You may need a procedure to lengthen calf muscles in order to lessen the stress on your tendon, or the damaged parts of your Achilles tendon may need to be removed.
If there is severe damage to the tendon, a transfer of the tendon from your big toe to the Achilles tendon may be attempted. While the surgical route may repair the damage, it may mean some patients are unable to compete in sports.
However, most people do respond well to these kinds of procedures and can return to their previous activities. Following surgery, you will need physical therapy and may still experience pain up to 12 months later.
Is Elliptical Bad Or Good For Achilles Tendonitis? (Can You Use It?)
Exercise is an essential part of recovering from any injury. While rest is important to give your body a chance to recover, complete inactivity can cause further problems.
It is natural to feel some anxiety when returning to exercise after an injury, but there are a few good options out there to help you recover and continue your regular activities.
You will need to reduce your regular exercise level by about half, and you should only attempt to exercise if you are not experiencing pain. Each week you can attempt an increase in your exercise levels, as long as it is not greater than about 20%.
However, low impact does not mean there is no risk of injury; it is crucial not to push yourself too far as this may make your tendonitis worse. Keep your speed and time low to begin with, and make sure you are resting enough between workouts, too, however low impact your activity of choice is!
There are some risk factors to consider when using an elliptical. Overuse could cause you to develop tendonitis in the first place and could also worsen the injury when you are recovering. Keep workouts to under 30 minutes when recovering from an Achilles injury.
Cycling too fast on the elliptical could put too much strain on your foot and, therefore, your tendon, so it is best to begin at a low level and increase as you recover. Using a too high resistance level could also cause or worsen an Achilles’ tendon injury. It’s always best to start on a lower resistance level and increase over time as your body becomes used to the exercise.
Elliptical Vs Treadmill (Which Is Better For Achilles Tendonitis?)
Another recovery exercise option could be a treadmill. It is possible to use the treadmill with Achilles tendonitis, but there are a few more considerations as it is higher impact work than the elliptical.
It is important not to overdo it, especially when it comes to speed. The best option is to begin by walking on the treadmill and build up to running. Use interval training to break up any running you are doing. Speed is also an important consideration when using an elliptical.
It may not be a good idea to use the treadmill with an incline when recovering, as this will also put a strain on the tendon and could make your injury worse. Using incline also increases your risk of developing Achilles tendonitis in the first place. This can also happen when using a too high resistance level on an elliptical machine.
Just as with the elliptical, it is also important not to use the treadmill for too long and to rest enough between workouts. Some recommendations are to keep workouts under 30 minutes when you are just beginning to exercise and rest for one to two days between sessions.
As the elliptical machine offers lower impact workouts, it is the safer of the options, but both (when used safely and moderately) would help you recover from Achilles tendonitis.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What other cardio exercises can I do with Achilles tendonitis?
Along with using an elliptical machine, other exercise equipment such as rowing machines and stationary bikes can help you recover from Achilles tendonitis. Exercises like running are best avoided.
What are some foam roller exercises for Achilles tendonitis?
A foam roller can be a good way to relieve some of the pain caused by Achilles tendonitis. Place the roller under one ankle and angle your other leg while you slowly roll your calf along the roller. You can also try rolling your foot across a mini foam roller.
Related Article - Best Foam Rollers
Does Achilles tendonitis ever go away?
If you follow your doctor’s and physical therapist's advice, it should be possible to recover from Achilles tendonitis. A usual time frame is between 6 weeks to 3 months.
Achilles tendonitis can be a painful and frustrating injury, especially if it stops you from participating in the activities you love. However, it is still possible to exercise while you recover, and an elliptical machine can be a good way to get back to full health again.
If you're looking for a budget low-impact elliptical, check out our favorite affordable ellipticals here.
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