The top 3 problems that plague athletes

ROMAN KOCH 22. January 2024

Photo: iStock/BartekSzewczyk

People visit physiotherapists for a wide range of issues. However, some areas of the human body are prone to more niggles than others. Three classics and an easy exercise to combat each issue.

Achilles tendon

An athlete's Achilles tendon is, in fact, often their Achilles’ heel. Irritation and excess strain are a common occurrence. But where does tendonitis come from, and how can you get rid of it?

The Achilles tendon emerges from the muscles of the triceps surae and pull them down toward the heel bone by rotating. It is the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body and can support a tensile load of up to a tonne. However, this is only if it is in good condition and the tendon is straight while under strain. On the heel, the tendon is flatter and wider.

The Achilles tendon requires eccentric training
A straight heel is good for the tendon. However, if the heel bone buckles inwards or outwards while walking or standing, this increases the tension around the tendon on the bent side. Over time, this leads to damage-causing strain in the tendon, which results in inflammation or wear and tear. The first step to resolving the issue is to straighten the heel when standing and walking. A straight heel no longer irritates the tendon tissue. The following easy exercise is ideal for increasing the tendon's resistance to strain and improving strength in the calf region.

Here’s how: Stand hip-width apart on a step. Place the front half of your feet on the step, allowing your heels to hover in the air. Raise both heels as far as you can. You should now be standing on the balls of your feet. Now, shift your weight entirely to the foot that is causing you pain and lift the other foot slightly. Slowly lower the weight-bearing foot until the heel is at its lowest point. Next, use your pain-free leg to help you as you raise both heels upwards again.

Take note: Always keep tension on the heel and don’t allow it to buckle. Go at a slow pace, particularly during the downwards motion. The tendon may hurt during the exercise but this should subside afterwards.

Repetitions: 3-5 sets, repeated 15 times. 

Lower back

The lower back is another major area of the human body that can negatively impact our daily lives and sport. Pain in the lumbar region is one of the most common symptoms. However, pain in this area doesn't automatically mean that there is an issue with your back itself.  Tension in the back muscles increases the pressure on the vertebral joints in the lumbar region. This excess pressure leads to sensitisation of the joint surfaces and to the body's premature perception of pain. Even under light pressure, the warning sign appears: it hurts.

Movement as medication
Placing less strain on the joints over a longer period can lead to desensitisation of the pain receptors. Motor coordination also decreases in a tense lumbar region, placing even more stress on the joints. This results in less fluidity when moving and feeling stiff. With a little training, motor coordination can quickly return once this tension is released. A tense muscle itself can hurt as the muscle is receiving a reduced supply of fresh blood, leading to hyperacidity and muscle pain. Unfortunately, this type of pain does not respond very well to typical pain medication. Exercise is the easiest way to combat it. The more blood that flows through the muscle, the less acidified it is. A simple exercise can help to relax the muscles again and regain motor control.

Here’s how: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your arms by your side on the ground. Start by rolling the pelvis upwards and slowly drawing it with your stomach muscles towards your nose. The back will be rounded at this point. Then lift each vertebra from the tailbone up one at a time as you go. Lift your pelvis until your back forms a straight line in the air. Now, slowly roll back down towards the ground, one vertebra at a time, until the pelvis returns to the floor and the stomach muscles can relax.

Take note: The exercise should be carried out in a slow, controlled manner.

Repetitions: 2 sets of 20 repetitions.


Anyone who sits at a computer for long periods of time is often in a poor posture that affects the neck, shoulders and back. This causes irritation and places excess strain on the shoulder joints. However, the pain is only noticeable after a while and often impedes you more during sport and less at work. The solution? Change your posture! But which exercise is best for this?

Counteracting shortening of the chest muscles
When sitting in front of a screen, the back usually tilts forwards, resulting in a rounded back. The shoulders, arms and head also end up tilting forwards. This posture doesn’t just affect the neck but also shortens the chest muscles and weakens the muscles in the back and shoulder blade. This makes it more difficult to extend the thoracic spine and move the shoulder blades backwards. This posture increases the risk of a frozen shoulder when lifting your arm above you. The shoulder blade on the thorax is unable to slide downwards and backwards sufficiently. The more the arm is lifted above the head while exercising, the more irritation in the shoulder region. The only way to relieve this is by lengthening the shortened muscles and strengthening the weak muscles on the back. The shoulders can be returned to their correct position using the following exercise:

Here’s how: Lie on your stomach with your arms by your side. Lift your head off the ground while looking towards the floor. Lift and draw your shoulder blades down towards your lower back as far as possible. Your arms will move up and down as you pull the shoulder blades together.

Take note: Don’t pull your shoulders up to your ears. Focus more on drawing them down towards the lower back rather than upwards.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 20 repetitions.