Monday, January 28, 2008

The Insult of Injury

Do you know much about a ruptured Achilles Tendon? I didn't, but I do now. Here's how it can happen according to the CNN/Mayo Clinic Health Library:
Achilles tendon injuries result from repeated stress on the tendon, which may be caused or aggravated by:

Running on hills and hard surfaces
Poor stretching habits
Tight calf muscles
Weak calf muscles
Worn-out shoes

Injuries to your Achilles tendon can often result from taking part in an activity involving stop-and-start footwork for which you're not conditioned or for which you haven't stretched properly. This might include playing tennis, racquetball or basketball for the first time after a long break.

Hey, read that again, "This might include playing tennis, racquetball or basketball for the first time after a long break."

Anyone who's reasonably fit and works out on a regular basis, risks injury from time to time. It's so difficult to deal with being injured, even with a minor strain, sprain or pulled muscle. It can make you really frustrated to know you're looking at weeks or even months sometimes, to come back to your earlier level of fitness. Baby boomers beware in particular. If you're a weekend warrior at the gym or overdo any sport, you are really at risk and need to reign yourself in. Your body knows you're not a teenager anymore! Listen to its wisdom when any part of you starts to feel strained or starts hurting. There's some basic math here, like 50 does not equal 18 years old! Hell, even 30 doesn't equal 18!

A friend of mine has ruptured his Achilles tendon and I had no idea what a stopper that can be. He slipped on an icy stair step -- that's all. He's fit and fifty. But it can happen to anyone at any age. It took about 10 seconds to do himself in. He'll undergo surgery this week and then expect nearly two months off that leg, in a cast or boot, and even then, his level of basic function and fitness might take six months or more to regain. I was amazed at that. Here's more from the CNN/Mayo Clinic Health pages:
First, there's a pop or a snap. Then an immediate sharp pain in the back of your ankle and lower leg that makes it impossible to walk properly. It almost feels like you've been kicked, or even shot.

These are the sensations typical of an Achilles tendon rupture. The Achilles tendon is a large, strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your lower leg to your heel bone (calcaneus). Your Achilles tendon — also called your heel cord — helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot.
When he told me the result of "hurting his foot on his stairs" was surgery, I really was shocked. But here's the lowdown on treatment.
Treatment for Achilles tendon ruptures can be surgical or nonsurgical.

Surgery: The usual treatment for a complete rupture of an Achilles tendon is surgery. The procedure generally involves making an incision in the back of your lower leg and stitching the torn tendon together. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue, the repair may be reinforced with other tendons. Afterward, you'll need to spend about six to 12 weeks with your leg in a walking boot, cast, brace or splint. To promote healing and to avoid stretching the surgical repair, your foot may initially be pointed slightly downward in the boot or brace, and then moved gradually to a neutral position.

Nonsurgical treatment: This approach typically involves wearing a cast or walking boot, which allows the ends of your torn tendon to reattach themselves on their own. This method can be effective, and it avoids the risks, such as infection, associated with surgery. However, the likelihood of re-rupture is higher with a nonsurgical approach, and recovery can take longer. If re-rupture occurs, surgical repair may be more difficult.
You don't even want to know the statistics of common injury we're all vulnerable to if we have a sedentary lifestyle. It's depressing! So please, get up, get out, at least walk an hour a day, and watch out for icy steps and pick-up games of basketball with enthusiastic college kids!