The fact that I haven’t written in 6 weeks is good news; it means I’m not thinking much about my achilles anymore! I feel like I’m done the ordeal, and thus I’m writing a “summary”.
At 4 months, I can say that I’m back to normal. Not perfect, but normal. Static calf strength is on par with the good leg. Flexibility is no longer limiting me. I’m doing drops on my mountain bike without the boot, running, jumping, hiking and even played a bit of (noncompetitive) basketball. I saw my surgeon last week, and he seemed very impressed with how good it looked. He basically told me to get out and don’t come back, you don’t belong here among the injured (although not in those words). And also asked “who’s your physio?” I didn’t tell him the 2 sessions I had with my physio were useless, but I did my own physio based on people’s recommendations from this site.
If you’ve just hurt yourself, you probably haven’t been following my story, so here’s a summary of my experience and the major points that I’ve learned.
Although some may consider me to have healed quickly, I don’t think it was especially fast. It sure didn’t feel fast. It’s about what I hoped for when I first hurt myself, based on the research I had done. Pro athletes can return to competitive sport in about 4 months, so for me doing sports non competitively at 4 months is about right. Here’s a summary of what I could do when:
Day -2: Went to hospital with injury.
Day 0: had surgery, when home same day on crutches.
Day 3: Discovered forearm crutches, and how much better they were than ampit ones.
Day 5: Went for my first bike ride around the block (with splint on, careful not to fall)
1 week: Back to work in the office on crutches.
2.5 weeks: Got the boot and went FWB. Also started bicycling in the city and on easy gravel paths. Also started gentle physio.
3 weeks: Life “back to normal” except for wearing boot.
~3.5 weeks: started gingerly walking around the house without boot (weight on heel).
6 weeks: started mountain biking (in the boot)
10 weeks: Ditched the boot, started aggressive physio.
11 weeks: First calf raise, allowed limp to disappear.
4 months: Fully healed, doing sports.
???: Confidence to try full out sprinting again.
Looking back, this is what I have learned:
-Don’t be over cautious. Realize that it is a very localized injury, and don’t let that one tendon hold the rest of your body back. As long as you are responsible and understand that you must protect the tendon from being overstressed, you can do more than your doctor will admit. This included for me the following things which helped immensely:
- Going straight to FWB and skipping PWB while wearing the boot. As long as there is no load on the tendon it’s all good.
- Walking around the house on my heel with no boot.
- Doing as much as possible in the boot (such as mountain biking)
- Working out the unaffected muscles in your injured side as much as possible to make walking easy later.
- Starting light strengthening exercises early. As long as you don’t overstress it past a safe level (thanks to Doug for this one). This really limits atrophy over doing nothing. The general rule given to me and others is that you can only stretch it using your own muscles in the front of your leg. I measured this force to be about 30 lb, so deduced that I can also push with 30 lb with my calf and not put any more stress on the tendon than my doctor-approved stress.
- Don’t be under cautious: I was getting overconfident with my crutches once and fell down the stairs and landed on my bad leg. Fortunately the angle was such that it bent my foot the other way and didn’t stress my tendon.
- Be cautious of over-lengthening your tendon. My doctor was very concerned about this. Although it seemed weird at first, after reading blogs of several people who had their tendons end up too long, it’s a real concern. Basically, don’t worry too much too soon about getting your flexibility back. It will come back with time. Your muscle gets tight with the surgery, and if you stretch it too much while it’s tight, it can loosen later and end up too long. Having had a “over short tendon” recovery scheme, I can say that it has worked well. There were periods where my bad calf was actually stronger than my good one at the limit of plantar flexion since the muscle could still contract well.
Overall, I think my experience is summed up by this picture of me biking in my boot. Don’t let this injury hold you back!!! Find things you can do.
Biking in the achilles boot.