Getting Back the Spring in Your Step: October 19, 2012

If you have a spring in your step, you owe it, in part, to your Achilles tendon. Stretching from heel to calf, the Achilles is a springy band of tissue that helps athletes get a leg up.

“Its main job is to bring the foot into a flex position; it’s used a lot during push-off, jumping activities, and jumping is also one of the more common ways of hurting it,” says Dr. Jason Nemtiz, foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Men over the age of 30 are most prone to a ruptured Achilles. Symptoms may include: pain along the back of the foot, above the heel, tenderness, swelling, stiffness, hearing a snapping or popping noise during an injury and difficulty flexing or pointing your toes. Surgery is often the best option to fix a tear.

“The biggest risk after an Achilles tear is that it can re-tear.  So when we treat these non-surgically there’s a rather high chance, probably more like a 1 in 5 to 1 in 6 chance, that it can re-rupture sometime down the road,” says Dr. Nemtiz. 

A game-changer in Achilles repair is the sutures. Using high-test sutures, doctors stitch the torn ends together and reinforce the tendon in the process.

“One of the most common we use is something called fiber-wire.  It’s just a really high-grade strength. Just a couple of strands of the suture was almost the equivalent of strength to the tendon itself,” says Dr. Nemtiz.

The injury can be sudden or gradual, either way, a torn Achilles is nothing to ignore.

“It can rupture clear through and retract a number of centimeters, up to an inch to two inches.  Those are obviously the ones you tend to really jump on and want to fix,” says Dr. Nemtiz. 

Not every rupture requires surgery; some can be managed with physical therapy and aggressive stretching. Your doctor can lay out the best options to help you get your bounce back.