24 March 2006

Your Achilles tendon

It might sound like Greek mythology, but the Achilles tendon plays a far greater role in our everyday life than the greatest warrior of the Trojan War.

It might sound like Greek mythology, from which it indeed derives, but the Achilles tendon plays a far greater role in our everyday life than the greatest warrior of the Trojan War.

What is the Achilles tendon?
The Achilles tendon, also known as the heel tendon, is a strong, fibrous piece of inelastic tissue that connects the heel bone (also known as the calcaneus) to the calf muscles in your leg, namely, the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

Being one of the body's strongest connective tissues, the Achilles contains many collagen (cartilage) fibres. It can be felt running down the back of the calf into the heel, and is worked by the calf muscles. It pulls on the heel when walking, running, or standing on tiptoe.

It might seem like a rather small piece of tissue, but the Achilles tendon plays a major role in everyone’s mobility. It helps you contract your calf muscles, as well as giving you the ability to roll your ankles, or move them in different directions. If damaged, it would be almost impossible to walk and the ankle would be very weak. Having a ruptured tendon could not only disable you to quite a large extent, but it would also be quite painful.

The ultimate pain however, would be if your Achilles tendon were to be severed right through the middle. Your foot would be completely immobile and your calf muscle would be in a constant, extremely painful spasm, leading you to possibly making the air blue with foul language, thereafter, passing out.

Why the name of the Achilles tendon?
According to ancient Greek mythology, Achilles was the Greek hero and greatest warrior of the Trojan War. Alexander the Great often referred to himself as being the Descendant of Achilles.

Achilles' mother Thetis lived in the Mediterranean, and was associated with Poseidon (God of the Sea), who helped sailors during storms, rode dolphins and other sea creatures, and could predict the future. The Trojan War was the result of a dispute that took place during Thetis' marriage to Peleus, Achilles' father.

There are two versions of how Achilles was immortalised. However, the most popular story refers to when Thetis made Achilles immortal by dipping him into the sanctified river Styx. According to legend, Thetis held Achilles by the heel, so the water did not touch his ankle, making it the only vulnerable part of his body.

Paris with the help of Apollo (the god of music and archery), shot an arrow into Achilles' heel, disabling him and eventually leading to his death.

And to this day, the Achilles legend lives on. Every step we take, every move we make, it is made possible by the Achilles tendon.

Interesting facts

  • The Achilles has quite a poor blood supply when compared to other tendons in the body
  • During the Trojan War, Achilles seemed invincible. He killed several enemies and their allies

(Matthew Louw, Health24)



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