The Best Exercise for Insertional Achilles Tendon Pain

 In Tendon Conditions

The Best Exercise for Insertional Achilles Tendon Pain

Achilles tendon pain is very common among runners and non-runners alike. It can affect people at any stage in life. There are two main categories of achilles tendon pain and injury. They are:

  • Mid portion achilles tendon pain (pain in the middle of the achilles)
  • Insertional achilles tendon pain  (pain at the bottom of the achilles tendon where it inserts into the heel)

achilles tendon regions

In the below video I demonstrate a key exercise that I prescribe to help people suffering with insertional achilles tendon pain rehabilitate their injury.

Transcript (video)

Hi everyone, Brad here with a little physiotherapy tip of the week. This week’s tip has to do with sore Achilles tendons.

Your Achilles tendon spans the back of the calf and inserts down into the heel bone. There are two sorts of Achilles tendon problems, the first is an insertional Achilles problem, and the second is what we call a mid-portion Achilles problem.

Today we are actually going to talk about how to address the insertional Achilles problem. So the exercises as a physiotherapist I give for insertional Achilles tendon problem is very different from the exercise that I give for the problem being further up in what we call the mid-portion of the tendon.

Let’s talk about the exercise that is best for the soreness down low (at the insertion). We call these the isometric holds – so what we do is we come up on the toes and we hold that there for a period of time and then come back down. So, you come into a calf raise, holding, use a wall for balance and support, and then come back down. Now there is an ideal protocol to follow with this, and that is to begin with 10 lots of thirty-seconds. After a weak progress to 5 lots of 1 minute, and beyond that over subsequent weeks at your physios discretion move to 3 lots of 2 minutes, 2 lot of 3 minutes, and lastly 1 lot of 5 minutes.

This is a great conditioning exercise for the Achilles tendon, and it will start to get you moving in the right direction in getting you back running and doing the things that you love and enjoy. Over and out! Have a great week.

*end of transcription*

Avoid eccentric exercises for insertional achilles tendon 

As a physiotherapist I regularly see runners (and non-runners) performing tendon rehabilitation exercises that are not in their best interest. Often-times an eccentric exercise (where the heel drops below the horizontal-eg heel drops off a step) are being performed. The problem with eccentric exercises for insertional achilles tendon injuries is that the dropping down phase of the exercise (ie where heel drops below horizontal) will actually create tendon tension on the already sore achilles tendon insertion. In cases where a patient engages me to assist them with their achilles tendon rehabilitation I will recommend that they immediately cease eccentric loading exercises and commence with just the isometric exercises as described above.

A note on calf strength

I also find that developing calf strength and endurance is also key in the rehabilitation of achilles tendon injuries. Video below:

Prescription and Progressions

Commence with: 10 x 30s holds

Progress to: 5 x 1min holds, 3 x 2mins, 2 x 3mins, 1 x 5min hold.

For further help please refer to the below resources

  1. Listen to tendon expert physiotherapist and researcher Associate Professor Dr Peter Malliaras discuss the rehabilitation of tendon injuries on Episode 62 of The Physical Performance Show podcast HERE>>

Dr Peter Malliaras Dr Peter Malliaras Dr Peter Malliaras

2.If you would like to learn more about how to best rehabilitate your achilles tendon injury click through and read this post The 3 Stages of Achilles Tendinopathy Exercises HERE>>

Brad Beer physiotherapist gold coast

Brad Beer (APAM)

Physiotherapist, Author You CAN Run Pain Free!, Founder POGO Physio

pain free performance Gold Coast physio

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Showing 11 comments
  • Dan

    Thanks for sharing this video, I appreciate the advice and I am in the process of giving isometrics a try. I have had trouble shaking this difficult injury. Do you recommend running during the 3-4 week period or taking the time off? Also would it be helpful to do the isometric holds with a weighted backpack on to increase the difficulty? Thanks again

    • Brad Beer

      Hi Dan,

      Have you had any imaging done on your achilles tendon? Re running check out this post as a guide HERE>>

      Yes progressing the load with time will help to further condition the tendon.

      Regards Brad Beer

  • Paul Eaton

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for this helpful video. I’ve had a sore (back of) heel for a few months now. In the early days I also had a mild burning sensation at the sides of the heel from time to time. It was worse first thing in the morning or after sitting still for a while. I didn’t really have any pain when running. I reduced my running a lot to begin with and was just left with the sore heel. I’ve now stopped running for a month, but it hasn’t gone away. Can I start the exercises now or should I wait until the soreness has gone entirely? Thanks.

    • Brad Beer

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your query-I recommend starting the exercises now-start with what you can tolerate in terms of holding duration eg 15s if necessary, and build up to 45s from there. Monitor the pain/stiffness the following morning getting out of bed.

      Regards Brad Beer

  • Tony Geraghty

    Are calf stretches while healing from insertional achilles tendinitis acceptable to do?

    • Brad Beer

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for your question-stretching of insertional achilles tendinopathy.

      Typically it is best to avoid it for risk of irritating the tendon/bone interface through tensile/compressive forces.

      Are you getting on top of your injury?

      If you are yet to tune in-this podcast is a great resource on beating tendon pain

      Regards Brad Beer

  • Dave

    Thanks for putting together the information and videos. One question is the exercise you suggest done once a day every day and do you rest between each rep?

  • Chris

    Hi, having been a marathoner I have recently changed focus and have been adding a lot of speedwork (under a coach), getting down to sub 4 min km reps, not too bad for an old bloke of 53! However I have developed the insertional issue after running a little too quickly up an incline. It tightened up almost straight away. It has eased somewhat and I am able to run for 40 mins without pain as such, but I do not have the full flexion back and it is still after sleep. I am doing single leg calf raises only, as often as I can, is this a good approach, keeping mobile?

    • Brad Beer

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your question. Great work on the running!

      Re best approach- isometrics 5x45s holds for first few days> progressing to isotonic loading (see below link-loaded calf raises up and down), then finally energy storage exercises (hopping etc). It is important to consider what I call the 5 steps also (your running body, shoes, technique, training loads. and hip strength). If you want to read more plz refer to the 5 steps in ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!’.

      Also read this to ensure you get a streamlined return to your running + I suggest working with a good sports physio who has an interest in running.


      Brad Beer


  • Lela Powell

    Great article about “The Best Exercise for Insertional Achilles Tendon Pain”. Thanks for sharing!

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