For thousands of years, the Achilles tendon has been known to be one of the linchpins of the lower body. The tendon was named for a legend of the ancient Greek hero Achilles. Dipped in magic waters, Achilles was held by his heel so that it was all that wasn't submerged, and was his one weakness. While far from mythically complex, the Achilles tendon and its functions are more complicated than most think.

  1. Tendons

  2. Tendons are one of the most important parts of the body. The purpose of a tendon, which is a thick, tough band of tissue, is to connect the muscle to the bone. The skeleton is the framework of the body, and the muscles its power, but without the tendons to connect the two of them, everything falls apart. This is why tendon strain and injury can be so debilitating, particularly when it's a major tendon such as the Achilles tendon.


  3. The Achilles tendon's major role in the body is to connect the heel to the two large muscles of the calf, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. When these calf muscles flex, they pull on the Achilles tendon, which causes the heel to rotate the direction of the foot in reference to the horizon. As such, the Achilles tendon is the rope which the muscles pull on to move the foot, which allows walking, running, and other movement related activities.


  4. Beyond simply holding the lower leg together and allowing foot movement, the Achilles tendon effects other parts of the leg. One of the calf muscles that the tendon connects through, the gastrocnemius, also spans across three of the major joints in the leg. Those are the ankle, the knee and the subtalar joint. These joints and the muscles that connect to the Achilles tendon, if injured or stressed, can all put increased tension on the tendon itself. The entire body is a system, and as illustrated here, stress on one part can cause other parts to become damaged if not properly cared for.


  5. Unlike other tendons in the body, which are insulated by a tendon sheath, the Achilles tendon has no such protection. Instead, the Achilles tendon is surrounded by three, separate layers of soft tissues. Additionally, for being such an important connection in the anatomy, the Achilles tendon receives a relatively poor flow of blood. Like any other part of the body, blood brings the necessary nutrients, and blood only comes to the Achilles tendon through its connection at the heel and its connection with the calf muscles.


  6. Other than eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, the Achilles tendon (and the rest of the body) can be kept healthy through regular exercise. Care should be taken when running, lifting using the muscles of the legs, and stretching not to damage or strain the Achilles tendon. Stretching out the legs before and after a workout, as well as paying close attention to any pain that's felt, are very important. If the muscles or tendons ache, ask for advice from a doctor or from a trainer who specializes in exercise and related injuries.

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