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Achilles tendon ruptures are one of the most difficult injuries for an athlete. Recently the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman tore his Achilles tendon, and is out for the remainder of the season. Achilles tendon ruptures occur most commonly in 30- to 40-year-old individuals, with 75% in recreational sports, and 8-20% in competitive sports. The event of a tear occurs more often when pushing off a foot while extending the knee or in jumping sports. Sherman is not the first big-name athlete to suffer such an injury…Kobe Bryant and Michael Crabtree are other stars to suffer the same injury.
The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to one’s heel bone (or calcaneous). A strong, intact tendon is critical for pushing off when running and jumping. A rupture of the Achilles tendon usually occurs due to a sudden traumatic event, or a contact event. The likelihood of Achilles tendon rupture is greater if the individual has a pre-existing disorder of the tendon, such as tendonitis or tendinopathy. This seems to be the case with Sherman, as he stated that the achilles had been bothering him this season prior to the tear. When the tendon tears it becomes difficult to push off or even stand on one’s toes on the injured side. When the tendon ruptures, patients often describe a sensation of being hit with a bat in the back of their ankle. It is painful initially, but eventually becomes more of a functional problem as opposed to a pain issue. Given the effects on function, surgery is required to give athletes the best chance to get back to their previous level of play.
Surgical repair involves sewing the two ends of the torn tendon together. The procedure is relatively quick; unfortunately, the recovery is not. After surgery, the athlete will undergo a period of immobilization, then regain ankle range of motion and leg strength via physical therapy. Athletes typically undergo physical therapy for up to 6 months or more before the leg recovers enough strength to compete. While healing rates are very high, many athletes never fully recover their explosive power. If anyone can get back it is an All-Pro like Richard Sherman. Unfortunately, part of what makes him so great is his explosiveness. Hopefully, he doesn’t feel a half step slow when he returns!