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Life After Achilles Tendon Rupture

In the past, a ruptured Achilles tendon could end the career of a professional athlete and significantly impact the quality of life for others with the injury—even after treatment.

Fortunately, that is no longer the case. If you suffer from this serious injury, you can most likely return to your normal life again.

However, long-term outcomes indicate that whether the injury is treated surgically or nonsurgically, significant residual loss of strength and function can persist for up to two years after the injury is repaired. To avoid reinjury or complications and return to normal activity, it is imperative that you engage in a rehabilitation program and patiently accept a recovery period of at least six months.

Rehabilitation of a ruptured Achilles tendon involves:

  • range of motion (ROM)
  • functional strength
  • orthotic support

 

The first therapy session will usually include evaluation of ROM, massage of the incision site (in cases of surgical repair) and stretching instructions, since the repaired or healing tendon will be tighter than before and more vulnerable to tears if stressed too soon. 

Light stretching exercises will increase flexibility in the tendon. We may also recommend wearing a boot for support while cycling or performing other exercises to maintain overall strength. Pain relievers may also be prescribed by your physician as needed. In addition to exercises, home care may include a nice water bath of the injured area twice a day for 15 minutes.

 

Over time, we will introduce weight-bearing exercises, such as toe raises on an elevated surface, to rebuild functional strength in the lower leg. Soft-tissue massage to the calf muscle, stationary biking without a boot, and therapeutic ultrasound and electrical stimulation can be prescribed if needed. Orthotic support can also help. Orthotics are custom-made inserts that fit into the patient’s shoe and help stabilize the foot, so it functions properly and avoids reinjury.

Gradually, under careful supervision, you can resume normal activities. Although the lengthy recovery period following Achilles rupture is often frustrating—particularly for young, active patients—an individualized exercise program can enable a return to your normal life, pain free and without restrictions, once again.

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