To accomplish your fitness goals, you need to be physically active. Going to the gym, engaging in outdoor activities, and participating in sports are great methods to achieve physical fitness. If you’re not careful, however, you can also suffer from injuries such as an ankle sprain, muscle strain, ankle fracture, and Achilles tendon injury.
The Achilles tendon is a strong band of fibrous tissue connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone. You can injure the Achilles tendon by unintentionally overstretching it, leading to a tear or a complete rupture. Achilles tendon injuries are actually common among sports players with recreational athletes accounting for 75% of Achilles tendon injury cases.
Treatment for Achilles Tendon Injury
The foremost treatment for a severe Achilles tendon injury is surgery. The surgery’s main goal is to reconnect your calf muscles to the heel bone. It is only through a surgical repair that a ruptured Achilles tendon will regain its full function.
Post-surgery, you will be required to wear a cast or an Achilles tendon brace to help stabilize and reduce the pain in your Achilles heel. The immobilization is also important to prevent you from applying too much weight to the injured leg. Once the cast has been removed, you can undergo initial therapy to make your ankle joint mobile again. It usually involves passive exercises for mobility restoration. Once your orthopedist gives you the green light, resistance exercises that are a bit more strenuous can be integrated into your routine.
After your initial therapy, you’ll be required to partake in gait training exercises for anywhere from two to three months. Truth be told, your recovery depends on how motivated you are to get back on track. How good the physical therapy program is will also factor in. Give or take, you can return to your usual activities in four to six months post-surgery.
Is Exercise Recommended Post-Surgery?
Not only is exercise recommended, it is actually encouraged to help rehabilitate your injured leg and speed up your recovery. With the guidance of a physical therapist, you will have to undergo stretching, strengthening, range-of-motion, and flexibility exercises.
Flexibility and stretching exercises are intended to help the injured tendon to heal while retaining its normal length. On the other hand, strengthening and range-of-motion exercises are meant to help your tendon regain the strength and mobility that it lost while it was healing.
If you’re going to exercise, make sure to put heel raises that are about 1-2 centimetres thick in your shoes to help relieve some pressure off your Achilles tendon. Start gently and let the pressure build up gradually when you pull your toes upwards to stretch the tendon. If these active stretches don’t hurt, then someone can help you move on to passive stretches, which are a tad more strenuous.
Moving on to a Strengthening Program
Only when you’ve regained a full range of motion can you move on to a strengthening program and balance exercises. A regular massage should likewise be incorporated to improve blood flow to the recovering area. Once you’ve started with a strengthening program, make sure to take extra care lest you risk re-injuring your Achilles tendon. Flexibility training is to be added to the strengthening exercises and done all throughout the program, too.
It’s normal to feel a little pain at the start of the program, but as long as it’s tolerable, you may continue. The pain should subside gradually as you work through the program until it’s no longer present. Never make the mistake of increasing the level of exercise if the pain is still present. Wait until it fully disappears before you move to a more intense program. If pain returns, stop the training altogether.
Don’t forget to warm up and stretch first before a headlong dash to strengthening exercises. To warm up the muscles, raise your heels up and down on your toes while sitting down. It’s also a good idea to apply direct heat to the tendon by rolling a hot water bottle on the area. Post-exercise, make sure to ice the area to keep the inflammation down.
If you have survived a week of the strengthening exercises pain-free, your doctor may give you to go-signal to return to training. You can start by walking to warm up your muscles and doing some stretches afterward.
Going Back to Training
On the first day of training, walk for about four minutes then switch to a 2-minute jog. Repeat this four times. Reserve the second day for rest, only to resume the 4-minute walk and 3-minute jog on the third day. You should alternate between a rest day and a walk-jog combination, with the jog time increasing by 1-minute increments. Do this for seven days.
Continue with this gradual progression until your doctor gives you the clearance to go back to your normal training routine without fear of injuring your Achilles tendon again.
Nutrition and Hydration
Your tendons and other connective tissues are made up of collagen, which provides tensile strength and elasticity to your connective tissues, making them adapt quickly to exercise. To promote collagen production, up your intake of foods that are rich in vitamin C such as mango, papaya, cantaloupe, and other citrus fruits. Vitamin C also has an antioxidant property that protects your collagen from damage. To facilitate tissue build up and repair, you need to incorporate protein-rich foods into your diet as well.
Dehydration can make the collagen in your tendons shrink in size, making them more susceptible to tears and injuries. While on the recovery stage, your body works double time to generate the energy you need during rehabilitation, making you sweat more. Replenish lost fluids and keep your cells healthy by drinking enough fluids and electrolytes.
Overall, you may be out of competition form for 6-12 months after surgery. Nevertheless, by following your doctor’s advice, sticking religiously to the program, and not overworking yourself, you can get back on track as good as new.
This article is a guest post by Joe Fleming