The Achilles tendon (thick fibrous cord) is the strongest tendon of the body. It is also the largest tendon which connects the muscles of your calf to the heel bone. Movement of this tendon allows us to run, walk and jump.
Despite its strength, the Achilles tendon is quite vulnerable to injury because during high impact activities (participation in sports) the tendon bears the weight of the entire body. Also, the tendon has limited blood supply and this delays the speed of recovery.
A surgery to repair a tear or rupture of the Achilles tendon is termed as Achilles tendon repair surgery. It is usually performed by an orthopedic surgeon specialized in treating musculoskeletal problems of foot and ankle. The surgery aims at restoring the structure and function of the tendon.
Achilles tendon injury is common among both young and elderly patients. Athletes involved in impact sports such as basketball, football or rugby quite often injure their Achilles tendon. Also, individuals playing recreational sports (cricket, badminton etc.) without proper warm up and sports safety equipment are more prone to Achilles tendon injury. Patients diagnosed with following conditions are ideal candidates for the surgery-
In case you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, then you should immediately visit your doctor. He/she will take the following steps before confirming the diagnosis
Older individuals and those with medical comorbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure etc usually opt for non-surgical/conservative management for Achilles tendon injury. Although, the recovery takes longer and there are chances of re rupture. Treatment includes-
In most cases, conservative management will provide effective relief from symptoms. However, few patients who do not benefit from this will be offered surgical treatment. Also, young athletes usually opt for surgery.
You will be asked to completely stop smoking, as smoking delays the healing process. It is very important to inform your doctor about all the medications that you are currently taking, e.g., herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, pain relieving medicines and over the counter (OTC) medicines. Some of these medicines/supplements can increase the risk of complications after tendon repair surgery. You will be asked to fast for several hours before surgery. Do not eat or drink anything at least 8 hours before surgery or as directed by your doctor.
Expect some pain and swelling over the ankle joint for the first few weeks after the surgery. But these symptoms will gradually wear off. Your doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medicines to help you feel better. An ankle splint/cast will be placed to immobilise the joint and accelerate the healing process. Once you get back home, walking around (mostly for basic activities) should be done with the help of crutches. Avoid putting any weight on the operated joint during the first two weeks after the surgery. After around 10 days, the cast will be replaced with a supportive boot, which you need to wear for the next 6 to 8 weeks.
Most patients will be able to resume their normal activities and sedentary jobs within 3 months following the surgery. Driving can be resumed almost 4 months after the surgery. However, it is recommended that you should consult your doctor before doing so. Once the tendon has healed sufficiently, your doctor will recommend you to begin rehabilitation with a physiotherapist. Initially, simple strengthening exercise for ankle and leg muscles can be performed. Gradually the intensity and frequency of exercises can be increased depending on the patient’s overall wellbeing. Around 6 to 8 months of rehab is required to completely recover. You will be able to return to sports almost 6 months after the surgery. But remember, that your Achilles tendon will take around a year to completely recover and get back to its pre surgical state.