From standing to sitting and running, the Achilles tendon is used in almost every motion a person makes. It connects your heel bone to your calf muscles, bears the full weight of your body, and allows you to push off of the ground while walking and jumping. Understandably, all of this motion makes it the biggest, thickest tendon in your body—and when it is injured, you may be unable to make the slightest movement without pain.
A sudden accident or repetitive strain can weaken the Achilles tendon, causing a painful tear known as a rupture. If it’s not treated quickly and correctly, a ruptured Achilles tendon can cause chronic pain and weakness in the affected foot and increase the risk of future tendon tears.
Will I Need Surgery for a Torn Achilles Tendon?
The treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture depends on the severity of the injury. A partial tear may need conservative treatment, such as immobilizing the foot to allow the torn ends of the tendon to grow back together.
A severe or complete tear of the tendon may require foot surgery to manually reattach the ends of the tendon. If you hear a “snap” or “pop” at the back of your foot and lose the ability to stand on your tiptoes, there is a good chance you will need surgery, followed by immobility and physical therapy, to repair the damage.
How Can I Help My Achilles Tendon Recover From Surgery?
The best way to ensure that your foot recovers properly is to take all the time you need to heal. A ruptured tendon is a serious injury, and attempting to rush through your recovery or take on too much physical activity too fast will only increase your chances of recurring problems. Most people will need between 4 to 6 months to fully recover from surgery, but the exact length of time will depend on the severity of the tear, how quickly the condition was treated, and your overall health.
You have a greater chance of recovering without problems if you know what to expect as you heal. While every recovery is different, patients often experience the following after Achilles tendon surgery:
- Swelling. Your ankle and lower leg may be swollen or bruised after surgery. In addition to over-the-counter pain relievers, you may want to elevate the foot and put ice on the area for the first few days.
- Numbness and pain. Your foot must be immobilized after the procedure to allow it to heal. It is vital to wear your cast or walking boot as directed for at least six weeks after surgery. Your boot may be pointed slightly downward toward the toe to place as little strain on the tendon as possible.
- Difficulty putting weight on the leg. As the tendon knits back together, you may be able to put some weight on your affected leg. Your boot may be adjusted to encourage the tendon to stretch to a standing position after a few weeks.
- Transitioning to stretching exercises. Once your foot can bear weight, your podiatrist may start you on a regimen of stretching exercises to improve your range of motion. These typically begin with pointing and raising your toes and progress into ankle circles. You may need some other forms of stimulation, such as massage or laser therapy treatments to encourage healing.
- Physical therapy. It may take several weeks or months of physical therapy to regain full use of your injured leg. It is important to take your rehabilitation seriously, and to focus on building up the flexibility and strength in the leg rather than jumping back into heavy exercise. When you can complete your physical therapy without pain, you may move into strength and resistance training.
- Strength exercises. You must work closely with your podiatrist in the late stages of your recovery. On the one hand, your affected leg will need conditioning to regain lost muscle tissue and flexibility—on the other, doing too much too soon can re-injure the tendon. Your podiatrist will guide you on the kinds of exercise that are safe during your recovery, as well as how much stretching, lifting, or walking you can do from week to week.
The foot and ankle specialists at Greater Washington Advanced Podiatry offer customized treatment plans for every patient, ensuring you enjoy pain-free walking as soon as possible. Simply fill out our online contact form or call us at (301) 515-FEET to set up your free initial consultation.