With the NFL preseason in full swing, I can’t help but notice as I watch SportsCenter that more and more players are being pulled for injuries. One interesting statistic is the in the first 10 days of training camp in 2011, TEN PLAYERS ruptured their Achilles tendons! Is this a result of poor conditioning in the offseason? It may also be from a tendon that had previous injuries (i.e. playing professional football!) that was weakened for some reason. Either way, it is a serious injury that MUST be treated immediately.
Typically, the athlete will feel a “popping” sensation when moving either forward or backward from a standing or crouching position. The sudden force of speed can cause the Achilles to rupture. The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in our body – but it has some weaknesses! Most importantly, the Achilles does not have a typical ‘tendon sheath’ that protects it as it glides in the back of the leg and ankle. The area approximately 2-6cm proximal (toward the knee) to the insertion at the back of the heel bone is especially weak because there is a limited blood supply to that area. 90% of ruptures occur here.
Treatment is surgery – in an athlete, this needs to be performed immediately to minimize swelling and further tissue damage. After surgery, patient’s must remain non-weightbearing for a minimum of 8 weeks (sometimes sooner IF they are in protective walking casts or in early physical therapy) to allow the tendon to fully heal. Physical therapy to regain strength and flexibility is also required and should be personalized to each patient and their needs. In the professional athlete, this will mean significant amounts of therapy for weeks and even months after surgery.
The good news is – this is an injury that can be treated quickly and effectively. Once rehabilitation is performed, most professional athletes are back on the field within 12 weeks. So here is hoping that Illinois Alum Mikel LeShoure is back playing for the Detroit Lions as soon as possible (but only after the Lions have lost to the Chicago Bears – my favorite team and NFC North rival! – twice!)
If you have questions about your Achilles tendon, or any sports injury you can call 309-661-9975 or schedule an appointment. If you want to chat sports with Dr. Lockwood you can email her at DrLockwood@heartlandfootandankle.com.