When I decided to get back on the basketball court a few weeks ago, my main concerns involved sprained ankles, blown-out knees, dislocated fingers and minor heart attacks. I had no idea that my Achilles tendons would capture so much of my attention.
Out on the court the last three Mondays, these tendons — which run from the heel behind the ankles up to the calves — have just been killing me. It doesn’t affect my ability to run and jump (such as it is), but any running and jumping is accompanied by a sharp pain just above my heels. And the pain lingers for three or four days afterwards.
It’s not the kind of pain that demands a trip to the ER or anything. I’m pretty accustomed to the delayed-onset muscle soreness that comes with strenuous exercise. But, I gotta say I’m a little worried about pushing it. I’ve heard about people rupturing their Achilles tendon, and it doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience: The tendon basically detaches from your heel and rolls up the back of your leg like a cheap window shade and leaves you writhing on the floor in what I assume to be great agony.
So, I’ve been doing a little homework on this condition in hopes that I can avoid that result, and what I’ve discovered is not particularly surprising: Tight calf muscles can lead to a tight Achilles tendon, which can lead to Achilles tendinosis, which is apparently what I’m suffering from. The remedy is relatively painless, though: a little rest, while stretching and strengthening the calf muscles. The experts here suggest taking a week off between bouts of tendon-challenging exercise — an easy remedy, given that I’m only playing hoops once a week — while stretching your calves for 20 minutes each day and doing some regular calf raises to shore up the muscles in there.
A little massage is not a bad thing, either. I don’t have a foam roller at home, so I grabbed the rolling pin from the kitchen this afternoon, eliciting a quizzical look from My Lovely Wife, who does all the baking around here. “That’s no way to get the cat off your desk,” she said.
“It’s for my calves,” I explained. That took a little while to sink in. I laid the wooden cylinder on the rug in our office and was just about to roll it up and down along my expectant calves, when I heard her say, “I use that on food, you know!”
I promised to wash the dog fur and whatever else it might pick up from my massage experiment and spent the next several minutes trying to iron out the kinks. I can’t say I could tell if it made any difference.
Massage is kind of like stretching, in that I’ve never aspired to master either discipline, but I’m thinking now that I’m going to have to start taking these maintenance techniques more seriously. My weekly yoga session is certainly helping on the stretching front, but I’m a real neophyte about this stuff. It’s never really been necessary.
I’m not that bright, but I’m beginning to figure out that aging is all about bumping up against the limitations of your body and mind. And each of us gets to decide on these occasions whether we’re going to give in or push through. Going for it usually means we’ve got to learn something new or do something that’s never been part of our repertoire — without knowing whether any of it will work to our advantage. So, I guess I’ll learn how to stretch these grumpy old calves and see if that doesn’t make my Achilles tendons happier.
The other option, after all, is to put away the basketball. And I’m not quite ready for that.