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Do you have an Achilles heel?

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Do you have an Achilles heel?  Well, you should have two Achilles tendons if nothing else, provided you have that same number of feet.  But can we heal an Achilles heel?  Yes, but sometimes it is difficult.

The story of Achilles and his heel dates back to Greek mythology where his mother, the nymph Thetis, attempts to give her son immortality.  This she did by dipping the infant in the River Styx, while holding him by the left heel.  All of the child was then in contact with the waters imparting immortality, other than his left heel where he was held by his mother’s fingers.  Achilles then grew to be a mighty warrior, but was killed when a poisoned arrow struck him in his left heel.

The tendon that joins the calf muscles in the back of your leg to the heel bone is called the Achilles tendon after the warrior, and is one of the longest and strongest tendons in the body – but there is a drawback.  The blood supply to the thick tendon is poor, so it is not a fast healer when damaged.  And damaged it does get.

How do you know you have injured the Achilles tendon?  Easily.  Pain!  Patients with a tear of the tendon often describe it as if they had been shot in the back of the ankle.

How do you get it?  Running, Gymnastics, Dancing, Football, Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Tennis, Volleyball or any other sudden physical movement of the ankle such as running out of the way of a baht bus!

The diagnosis may require MRI to see if it is a partial tear or a complete tear and that leads to the type of repair necessary.  So we can join the tendon together again, but it can take up to a year or more for full healing!

By the way, the use of the term “Achilles heel” as an expression meaning “area of weakness, or vulnerable spot” dates only to 1810, with implied use in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Ireland, that vulnerable heel of the British Achilles!”  (Oxford English Dictionary)


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