No matter how you feel about him wearing a uniform other than the green-and-gold, Aaron Rodgers is now staring at a lengthy road to recovery from what many athletes consider a dreaded, potentially career-ending, injury: an Achilles-tendon tear.
While the news took the wind out of many fans’ sails, it’s a springboard to an important discussion about the nature of such injuries, the road to recovery, and what it entails for anyone – athlete or not.
Let’s use Rodgers’ experience as a lens to better understand the Achilles tear, its implications, and the rehabilitation process.
Understanding the Achilles Tear
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone. It’s crucial for many activities, from walking and running to jumping.
However, with great responsibility comes vulnerability. Tears happen when excessive tension is put on the Achilles, especially if the calf muscle is weakened.
Rodgers’ Achilles tear is a prime example. Amid his first series of downs as a New York Jet, Aaron was placed in maximal dorsiflexion (a position where the toes are pulled up towards the shin, which the Achilles and calf muscles resist).
With his cleats catching in the artificial turf and Buffalo linebacker Leonard Floyd driving him to the ground, the tendon could not withstand the excessive weight and strain, leading to the tear.
The Path to Recovery: Step by Step
Rehabilitation from an Achilles tear is lengthy, demanding patience, dedication, and expert care. Here’s what the recovery process looks like:
- Immediate aftermath: Following a tear, the focus is on immobilization to protect the tendon and facilitate initial healing. The injured foot is often placed in plantar flexion, where the toes point downwards. This position puts the Achilles on slack, reducing tension and facilitating healing.
- Non-weight-bearing phase: After surgery, the patient may have to avoid putting weight on the injured foot. This can last from six weeks to three months, depending on the surgeon’s approach and the severity of the tear. The goal is to ensure that the repaired tissue isn’t unduly stressed, jeopardizing the healing process.
- Weight bearing with plantar flexion: As the tissue shows signs of recovery, patients are slowly allowed to bear weight, but still with their foot in plantar flexion. The progress is gradual, ensuring the Achilles tendon isn’t overstretched.
- Transition to walking boot: Over time, the degree of plantar flexion is reduced. When the foot approaches a neutral position, patients transition to a walking boot. This boot stabilizes the foot and ankle, providing support while allowing for more natural movement.
- Weaning off the boot: Eventually, as strength and flexibility improve, patients begin transitioning away from the walking boot. At this stage, rehabilitation exercises play a pivotal role in restoring function.
- Complete recovery: Achieving a full recovery can take anywhere from nine to 12 months. It’s not merely about healing but regaining strength, flexibility, and confidence in the injured tendon. (It should also be noted that what might be a full recovery for most people may not be a full recovery for an elite athlete. That process may take 24 months or more.)
Why the Slow Recovery?
You might wonder: Why does this process take so long? The Achilles tendon, unlike other tissues, has a limited blood supply, which can slow down the healing process.
In addition, given the Achilles tendon’s crucial role in weight bearing and locomotion, the repair-and-rehab process must be scrupulously followed and can’t be rushed.
It’s a balance between allowing the tissue to heal and restoring function. A hurried recovery can risk re-injury.
An Achilles tear is a major traumatic injury for any athlete, much less an athlete pushing 40 like Aaron Rodgers. However, these injuries, while daunting, are not insurmountable.
Individuals can return to their pre-injury levels of activity with expert orthopedic care, dedicated physical therapy, and patience – and you can be sure that Aaron Rodgers will have the highest level of care through surgery, recovery, and rehab.
If you’re looking for ways to be more like Aaron Rodgers, we don’t recommend tearing your Achilles tendon. However, if that turns out to be the thing you and the MVP have in common, we’re ready to treat you.
Stevens Point Orthopedics has surgeons trained and skilled in Achilles-tendon repair, and the sports-medicine experts at the Wisconsin Performance Institute have the state-of-the-art equipment you need to come back better than you were pre-injury.
If you’re hurting, give us a call. We can help.