Achilles Tendon Repair: How Long Will I Need Physical Therapy?
Healing A Damaged Achilles
The Achilles tendon is the biggest and strongest tendon in the body. This large tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel and gives the legs explosive power. Without the Achilles, running, jumping, and even walking would be impossible. Particularly in sports, the Achilles can rupture, impacting thousands of athletes. An Achilles tendon repair can help, but the process must be followed by extensive physical therapy.
Signs and symptoms
A sudden force, twist, or blow can cause a partial or complete tear. With age, repeated stress can also cause degenerative damage. In both cases, patients experience swelling, pain, and discomfort near the heel. Athletes often hear a pop in the lower heel for an acute injury before the pain and swelling. Bending the foot downward or placing weight on the heel will be near impossible.
It's time for repair
Most patients are candidates for minimally invasive surgery using small buttonhole incisions. The surgeon inserts a scope with a camera and light at the end. From there, the surgeon can use another small incision to insert tools to repair the tendon. The tendon is reattached to the heel, or parts of the degenerated tissue are removed. A donor's tendon is necessary to replace or strengthen the damaged Achilles in severe cases. The surgical site is closed with stitches, and the patient leaves the same day.
The road to recovery
Surgery is just the start. A good recovery regimen, including physical therapy, is crucial for recovery. A ruptured Achilles severely limits movement and requires a lengthy recovery, often 6 months or more. Immediately after surgery, the injured foot goes into a protective boot. For the first 2 weeks after surgery, both doctor and patient will focus on protecting and healing the wound.
Starting physical therapy
At the 2-week mark, the surgeon will assess the surgery and remove the stitches. If the surgical site is healing well, the doctor will approve physical therapy. The foot will stay in a special boot between treatment to keep the ankle and foot slightly elevated. Physical therapy starts with gradual, non-weight-bearing exercises and massage. The patient will also receive light exercises to strengthen the core, knees, and hips.
Stepping things up
After 4 weeks, the physical therapy will involve placing gradual weight on the leg. The walking boot is also adjusted so the patient can walk short distances. From 4-8 weeks, the physical therapy involves strengthening the calf muscles, hamstring, and core. Further exercises will help stabilize the ankle and help with the range of motion.
Removing the boot
Exercises increase in intensity leading up to the 3-month mark. Short walks or a stationary bike is possible based on the patient's progress. The physical therapist will focus on restoring the patient's gait. At this point, the patient should have a full range of motion and can gradually return to low-impact activities.
The end of the road
Between 3 to 6 months, the physical therapist will help strengthen and stabilize the leg. Most exercises will include walking on treadmills, elliptical machines, and sports-specific movements. Running, pivoting, or weight-bearing activities are all based on the individual's fitness level. A torn Achilles recovery tune varies from person to person. Building a solid relationship with the doctor and physical therapist team is essential to a full recovery.
No. Because anesthesia is required for surgeries, we cannot let anyone drive themselves home following a procedure. We ask that you arrange for a family member or close friend to drive you to and from the facility on the day of your appointment. You also need a responsible adult to stay with you for 24 hours after receiving anesthesia.
Our fees cover the use of the facility only. Facility fees do not include laboratory, pathology, surgeon, anesthesiologist or certified nurse anesthetist fees, nor does it include the cost of any implants used for your surgery. You will be billed separately for these fees.
Yes. Before surgery, you and your anesthesia provider will sit down to discuss your medical history and review the anesthesia plan; this is when you’ll be able to voice all of your questions and concerns. Feel free to call our admissions nurse if you have concerns that should be addressed prior to the day of surgery.
No. Your physician, along with the other medical service providers, including anesthesia, radiology or pathology specialists, who use this facility are independent contractors. Because these individuals are not employed by our facility, we are not responsible or liable for their acts or omissions.