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Achilles Tendon Injuries

Bryan Vopat, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center, discusses whether Achilles tendon injuries are increasing in athletes. Even though it's your body's largest, strongest tendon, it can be sensitive to harm.
  • A: I wouldn't necessarily say there's a trend toward more Achilles injuries. It may seem so because media coverage is more prevalent. When a higher profile athlete suffers damage, we become more aware of it because it's in the media.
  • A: We don't generally see a lot of Achilles injuries in high school athletes. We do see some in college athletes. The biggest increase in this type of injury occurs as we get older. Achilles injuries are still relatively rare in high school and college athletes.
  • A: There's a theory that the increased bulk, size and explosiveness of athletes may lead to more Achilles tears or ruptures. While we haven't quite seen that, it is a valid theory.

    The thought is that being stronger or faster can cause more force to go across ligaments and tendons, creating damage.

  • A: While everyone is at risk, the chances of an Achilles injury increases as we age. Our tendons become cross-linked and that makes them become more brittle.

    Also, basketball players, sprinters and other athletes who make sharp cuts are a bit more likely to suffer such an injury. It often feels as though you've been kicked in the back of the heel – that's a common sign of an Achilles rupture.

    In general, we lose flexibility as we age and that makes us more prone to Achilles injuries.

  • A: Stretching exercises can help prevent injuries. Stretching your Achilles helps prevent the cross-linking of tendons, which can make them brittle. Basically, stretching increases flexibility, which reduces the likelihood of a rupture.

    Another way to prevent injury is to train well overall and not just be a weekend warrior. It's more likely you'll be injured if you suddenly go out there on a weekend without warming up and performing other athletic activities throughout the week.

  • A: Despite advances in the way we do surgery and the rehabilitation, recovery still takes about a year.

Bryan Vopat, MD, says that recovery from an Achilles tendon rupture takes about a year, despite advances in treatment.
The harder part about after Achilles rupture and repair is actually the recovery. The rehabilitation is what takes the longest. It's still about about a year recovery. It's six months before you're getting back to all your activities, even though we've had a advances in in the way we do the surgery and in our rehabilitation afterwards as well.

Bryan Vopat, MD, discusses the theory that the increasing size and strength of athletes could lead to increased risk for Achilles tendon injuries.
That's a theory that increased bulk and size and explosiveness to have the athletes can cause more power across the tendons and ligaments and make you more likely to injure them. We haven't quite has seen that, but we do believe that that's one of the theories and that can make us more likely to tear these is because the players are stronger, faster and the muscles... and their muscles are stronger causing a more force to go across their Achilles tendon and their ACLs and the ligaments and tendons like these.

Bryan Vopat, MD, talks about who is at risk for Achilles tendon injuries.
Everyone is at risk for Achilles rupture. The older we get, the more likely it can occur. Our tendons become cross-linked to become more brittle as we get older and we're more likely to see a rupture. A person playing basketball are all of the sudden making cuts or sprinting all of the sudden will feel almost like a they were kicked in the back of the heel and that can show that they've ruptured their Achilles. We do see it as we get older more so than when we were younger and then we're less flexible as well. That can make us a little bit more prone to rupturing these as well.

Bryan Vopat, MD, says Achilles tendon injuries are rare in high school athletes but are more common as athletes get older.
This is usually an injury if that's not seen in high school athletes. We do see some in college, but it's more as we get older we see more Achilles ruptures. In the high school population, it's very rare and then what you do see some and in college.

Bryan Vopat, MD, talks about the perceived prevalence of Achilles tendon injuries.
I don't necessarily think there's a trend towards more Achilles injuries. I think the media is just more prevalent and we see these high-profile athletes, we're and it's right... and we see it all the time in the media. And that it's more prevalent and that we can see how often it occurs. I don't necessarily think there's a higher prevalence going on... between now and their recent past as well.

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