Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?
A: It's possible that the soleus muscle, which tends to be both weak and tight for most people, got significantly overworked when you returned to class.
The soleus muscle is underneath the main gastrocnemius muscle and points the foot at the ankle. The soleus muscle also determines the depth of your demi-plié and helps you lower with control through the foot when landing from a jump. When the soleus muscle is weak, dancers tend to land hard onto their heels rather than softly through the foot.
To strengthen this muscle, be sure to isolate it by doing bent-knee, forced-arch relevés. To stretch it, try some gentle calf stretches with your knee slightly bent. You want to feel the stretch more toward the ankle.
The soleus along with the gastrocnemius attach to the Achilles tendon. Tendinitis happens when the muscles are being asked to do more than what they are prepared for, and the pull can then tear and create inflammation in its fibers. Make sure you ease into work as you return, so that your soleus muscles are both flexible and strong.