Published on: 09-Apr-2022
An Achilles tendon injury can occur to anyone. Read this blog and know the steps to recover from Achilles tendon injury.
How To Recover After Achilles Tendon Injury
The Achilles tendon is considered the largest tendon found in your body. This fibrous band of tissue links your calf muscles to the bones of your heel. You can locate it by feeling that springy tissue behind your ankle and just above your heel.
Some of you have probably heard about popular athletes suffering from an injured Achilles tendon. While it does sound like something that mostly happens to sporty people, this type of injury can happen to anyone, even to those without a physically demanding daily routine. (1)
Your Achilles tendon can get injured depending on the kind of activities you usually do every day, and it could cause mild to moderate pain. If the injury is severe, your tendon injury could be partially or wholly torn and require surgery.
Causes And Risks Of Achilles Tendon Injury
An Achilles tendon injury usually happens when someone suddenly slows down, speeds up, or changes direction when walking or running. The abrupt action could put too much strain and pressure on the tendon, causing it to get strained, or even tear. You could also injure your tendon when repeatedly doing high-impact activities, which, in this case, can be classified as a type of repetitive stress injury. (1)
Some activities that could cause Achilles tendon injury include:
- Playing intense sports (e.g., football, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, tennis)
Keep in mind that Achilles tendon injuries don’t only happen to athletes. You could also be at risk of tendon injury if:
- You often wear high heels that could stress your tendon
- You tend to work out on uneven floors
- You’re starting a new exercise routine
- You’re wearing shoes that don’t fit well
- You stepped into a hole or fell from a high step.
The most apparent symptom of Achilles tendon injury is pain above your heel, specifically when you try to stretch or stand on your feet. In the worst cases, when your tendon tears, you may hear a popping noise or a snapping sound when it occurs, which needs to be treated right away for surgery. A few days or weeks after the surgery, you’ll be required to undergo Achilles rehabilitation to begin the recovery process and recover your strength. (2)
Steps To Recover After Achilles Tendon Injury
Recovering from an Achilles tendon injury won’t be a walk in the park, and the healing process may take 1-2 weeks if you’re constantly at rest or 6-8 weeks if you’re always physically active at home or work. Thankfully, taking these steps may help speed up the recovery process. (2) (3)
- Rest your leg
Minor Achilles tendon injuries may heal on their own as long as you let your entire leg rest and avoid putting any pressure or weight on it. If you need to walk, it’s best to use crutches to prevent the injury from being aggravated because of pressure from your own weight. If you are lying down or sitting, you can use a pillow to elevate the leg with the injured tendon. (2)
For severe cases of Achilles tendon injury, you should see the doctor immediately. They’ll determine whether your tendon was torn or not. If you suffer from a partial or total Achilles rupture, then the doctor will recommend surgery.
- Apply ice
Placing ice in the affected area may help reduce swelling. You may do this for up to 20 minutes, then compress your leg using an elastic bandage to keep the swelling down. If the doctor recommends it, you can also take a shower 1-2 days after the surgery. This can also help reduce swelling and inflammation, make sure you cover the bandage with a sheet of plastic over it to keep it dry. On the contrary, if the doctor doesn’t say it’s okay, you can take a sponge bath instead. (2) (3)
- Attend physical therapy appointments
Your doctor will recommend you do light stretches or strengthening exercises to help speed up your tendon’s recovery process. However, to ensure you don’t overdo it, it’s best to schedule physical therapy appointments with a therapist or a health care provider. This way, they can assist you during your strengthening exercises and help prevent any risk of long-term deficits. (1)
You may also need to undergo shockwave therapy or ultrasound, depending on the severity of the injury. You’ll also need to wear a cast or use a heel lift during stretching and exercises to protect your healing tendon from any strain or pressure during these activities. (2)
- Only take the prescribed medicines
Take your medicines as initially prescribed by your doctor, and don’t stop unless you’re told to do so. If your doctor hasn’t specified any painkillers (especially for minor Achilles tendon injuries), you can ask them about whether you can take over-the-counter medications. If antibiotics or other pain medicines prescribed to you make your stomach sick, you can ask your doctor for alternative medication or take your medicine after meals. (3)
- Take care of your incision or the injured area
Whether you have an incision covered with a bandage or a cast in your leg, make sure to look after the injured area. If you’ve undergone surgery, your doctor may recommend keeping the bandage on until your next doctor’s appointment. While doing so, keep the injured area clean and dry to avoid potential infection. If you’re wearing a cast, keep it dry and avoid putting anything between the cast that might cause an allergic reaction. (3)
The speed of your Achilles tendon’s recovery depends on your follow-up care and the severity of the injury. If you want to regain your strength and walk normally again, don’t forget to attend your doctor’s scheduled appointments, undergo physical therapy treatments, and follow the injury aftercare instructions. If you’re having any problems feel any pain in the injured area, don’t hesitate to call a nurse or doctor to have it checked.
- “Achilles Tendon Rupture – Aftercare”, Source: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000546.htm
- “Achilles Tendon Injuries”, Source: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/achilles-tendon-injury
- “Achilles Tendon Repair: What To Expect At Home”, Source: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=zc2320
Author: Ann T. Dean is an athletic general fitness trainer, and has been in the industry for over 17 years. She helps organize rehabilitation programs for injured athletes and conducts webinars for her fitness trainees.
Listen to the latest Episode on the Sports Medicine Weekly Podcast.