No athlete – professional or recreational – is happy when they’re sidelined with an injury. That’s particularly true when the injury is thought to be career-ending, like an Achilles tendon rupture. Fortunately, researchers from Emory University’s Department of Orthopedics have found otherwise.
An Overview: Achilles Tendon Rupture
The Achilles tendon connects calf muscles to your heel. Overuse or overstretching it can cause it to tear completely or, sometimes, only partially. When the tendon ruptures, it can cause significant pain and limited mobility. In fact, it can make it difficult and painful to put pressure on it when you walk.
The most common treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon is surgery, but sometimes non-surgical treatment is also effective. After surgery, your orthopedic provider will recommend therapy and strengthening exercises to regain mobility.
Promising Research for Professional Athletes with Achilles Tendon Rupture
Because an injury to the Achilles tendon can be severe and painful, it was previously considered a career-ending injury for professional athletes. Now, professional athletes recovering from this type of injury have new hope with the findings from the Emory University study.
Emory researchers found that recovery of strength following surgical repair of a rupture was associated with increased ability to return to pre-injury level of play among professional athletes. The goal of the study, published in the official journal of American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, was to examine the relationship between ankle strength and return to the same level of activity following operative repair of an Achilles tendon rupture.
Research from another common sports injury, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, has demonstrated that return to pre-injury sporting activities and higher function following ACL reconstruction is correlated with increased postoperative quadricep and hamstring strength. Thus, study authors hypothesized that increased ankle strength would similarly correlate with a return to the previous level of sporting activity following operative repair of an Achilles tendon rupture.
“At Emory Sports Medicine Center, our goal is to find the most efficient and effective way to get you back to the activities you love, whether you are a weekend warrior or competitive athlete,” says Sameh Labib, MD, co-author of the study and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. “With this finding, we now have proof that those high-level athletes who receive a successful surgical repair of an Achilles tendon rupture are able to return to pre-injury levels of participation.”
Returning to Play After Achilles Tendon Rupture
Both recreational and professional athletes are often concerned with their ability to return to their previous activities following treatment and recovery. The study found that at a mean of 1.8 years after surgical repair of the Achilles tendon, 31 percent of patients had returned to their previous preinjury level of play as determined by the Tegner Activity Level Scale, and 58 percent had returned to within 1 Tegner level of play. Athletes with a Tegner score of 7 or greater benefited even more from the surgical treatment.
These results suggest that patients with more strenuous athletic demands are more dependent on recovery of ankle strength in the postoperative time period in order to return to their previous high level of play, whereas regaining strength may be less important for returning to normal activities for less active patients.
About Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center
Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center offers a full range of services to diagnose, treat and repair bones, joints and connective tissue, like muscles and tendons. Our team puts your health and well-being first. Part of our commitment to patients is making sure you receive the care you need, when you need it.
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