Healing a Torn or Ruptured Achilles Tendon Injury
The Achilles tendon rupture remains one of the most common ankle injuries. The Achilles tendon was aptly named for the romantic warrior felled by a swift cut to his own ankle tendon. This notorious Achilles tendon has felled millions since the days of Achilles the Warrior. Considering the distinctive popping sound and the immediate, shooting pain associated with an Achilles rupture or tear, the ability of the Achilles tendon to destroy a person’s most basic physical abilities hasn’t changed at all. If you are suffering from a torn or ruptured Achilles, you don’t need us to tell you that it is a painful and time-consuming injury. We may not be able to speed up time, but we can provide useful information to help heal your Achilles tendon more easily, and with any luck – more quickly as well!
WHAT TO DO AFTER YOUR ACHILLES RUPTURE OR ACHILLES TEAR
Immediately after Achilles tear or rupture:
- Ice the Achilles (back of the ankle) for 15 minutes every hour.
- Rest. No walking on your injured Achilles if it can possibly be avoided.
- Go see your physician immediately. In certain severe cases, it may be best to visit an urgent care center. Only your doctor will be able to decide if Achilles tendon surgery is necessary.
Rehabilitation of a torn Achilles tendon or ruptured Achilles tendon (non-surgical):
- 8 weeks in an ankle cast (with the injured foot pointed slightly downward) is the typical first step for non-surgical Achilles tendon repair. Casting allows for the torn Achilles tendon to begin re-joining by lowering the risk of straining or re-injuring the Achilles tendon.
- Post-cast, a shoe insert that lifts the heel (much like a wedged heel) should be worn for another 6-8 weeks to alleviate pressure off of the Achilles tendon.
- Should your doctor choose physical therapy or a rehabilitation program as a treatment option for your torn Achilles, expect your treatment to start with hot/cold therapy, ultrasound, and massage to help ease both pain and moderate inflammation of the Achilles tendon.
- Achilles tendon injuries shorten and tighten the ankle tendon, so when the pain becomes tolerable, your practitioner may choose to begin stretching and strengthening exercises to begin rebuilding strength and flexibility in your Achilles.
- The next step will be strengthening exercises for the calf muscle, as it supports the Achilles tendon. This will start with isometric exercises (which gently work the muscle with low risk of disrupting the healing Achilles tendon) and building to eccentric exercises (which rebuild the strength of your Achilles).
- Physical therapy may be advised for anywhere from two weeks to multiple months, depending upon the severity of the Achilles tendon injury.
Rehabilitation of a torn/ruptured Achilles tendon (surgical)
- A leg cast or brace will be worn for 6-8 weeks post-surgery to protect the Achilles tendon.
- Crutches, or a crutch alternative like the iWalk knee walker, will be needed to protect the injured Achilles tendon from bearing weight. Becoming weight bearing too early is one of the main causes of re-injuring the torn Achilles. Choose the best option with your doctor, taking into account how much physical activity your typical day includes. Those with low physical activity will do fine with crutches or a knee scooter; those who lead more active lifestyles, or who are required to do a good deal of walking or other physical exertion either at work or around the house should look into a hands-free option like the iWalk
- Your doctor may choose physical therapy or specific motion exercises for the calf and Achilles tendon, as these conditioning exercises can help patients maintain/build muscle strength. When done correctly, these exercises can lower the chance of re-injuring your Achilles.
- In the likely event your practitioner recommends physical therapy, expect the standard combination of icing, massage and ultrasound. This will eventually be followed by more advanced treatments to strengthen the Achilles tendon. Often, physical therapy in a pool is appropriate for rehabilitating an Achilles tendon tear or rupture, because the water allows the patient to walk without the risk of applying too weight onto the injured Achilles.
- Post-cast, a shoe insert that lifts the heel (much like a wedged heel) should be worn for another 6-8 weeks to alleviate pressure on the healing Achilles tendon.
That takes care of the basic medical process associated with a torn or ruptured Achilles tendon, but what about the rest? Read on for nutritional advice specific for healing your Achilles tendon, and emotional coping strategies to help you recover your mobility and keep your sanity during injury recuperation!
NUTRITIONAL HEALING FOR A TORN OR RUPTURED ACHILLES
- Water: The health mantra “always drink 8 glasses of water a day” has been touted by the health care community for years now, but while healing an Achilles tendon this rule should become golden for you. Dehydration causes muscle tightness, which increases the risk of tearing (or in your case, re-tearing) your Achilles tendon.
- Pineapples: Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples helps reduce injury inflammation that occurs both after you rupture your Achilles, and post-Achilles tendon surgery.
- Dairy: Time to actually listen to your mom, and drink that glass of milk! The calcium found in dairy such as milk and yogurt is not just good for your bones, it’s good for rebuilding your injured Achilles tendon too!
- Go Nuts: Almonds, soy beans, peanuts (and peanut butter) all contain calcium and magnesium which help kick start the healing process of re-building your injured tendon’s connective tissue.
- Vitamin C: This famous vitamin does double duty. It helps repair torn tissue and helps produce collagen. Collagen is not just an anti-aging miracle worker, but also a key protein your body needs to build tendons (like the Achilles) and ligaments. Oranges, bell peppers, and strawberries are just some of the options you have to meet your daily recommended dose.
- Vitamin E and Omega 3’s: Both of these help reduce post-Achilles tendon injury or post-Achilles tendon surgery inflammation. Easily add these nutrients to your diet by including fatty fish such as sardines or salmon, as well as almonds, sunflower seeds, leafy greens, and broccoli.
EMOTIONAL HEALTH AND SANITY DURING AN ACHILLES REHABILITATION
- Maintain as normal of a life as your Achilles injury allows.
Just because you can’t exercise, doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthfully, for example. Just because you can’t participate in a sporting event, doesn’t mean you can’t attend. Recuperating from an injury, especially one that is as time intensive and highly restrictive as a torn Achilles can be difficult both physically and emotionally. Frustration, anger, jealousy, boredom, and a feeling of dependence can all be triggered by the loss of certain activities and abilities of your normal, non-injured lifestyle.
The best thing you can do for yourself (and your sanity) is to try to be as normal as possible. Using a mobility device like the iWalk-Crutch, for example, may not enable you to run a race, but it can certainly help you go for a walk! Cooking, cleaning, caring for your children and animals, ext. are all made possible with mobility devices like the iWalk crutch. You may be surprised at how normal your life can actually be while recovering from your torn or ruptured Achilles tendon. To see how other people have handled their Achilles tendon injury recovery using the iWalk hands-free crutch.
- Use this opportunity to both heal your Achilles and better your mind.
All injuries do come with some required rest, and a torn or hurt Achilles tendon is certainly no exception! Even those with an iWalk will have a bit extra downtime when you consider all those doctors' waiting rooms you’ll be sitting in! Take this time that you are healing your injury to learn a new hobby. It may seem trivial, but putting your mind to the mental task of learning something new is a great way to decrease boredom and maintain a sense of purpose and fulfillment in your life during injury recuperation. Anything from knitting to learning a new language is going to be a lot easier to do with all your extra downtime!
The information above is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to prevent, treat, or diagnose any illness or disease. We aim to provide the highest quality information, so if you have any questions on the information above, or if you would like to present an alternate opinion, we welcome your feedback!