On May 16th, while my daughters were in gymnastics, I went for a jog around the neighborhood - something that I've done several times before. That day, I took a different route primarily to view ground breaking for a new development in the area.
After a 1/2 mile light jog, I stopped to stretch in front of the new development and observe. It had been a few weeks since I ran, so I intentionally focused on making sure that I stretched well. I ran for another mile before stopping to start my last phase of my workout - walking lunges, high knees, butt kicks, walking trail leg raises, and sprints.
I was performing the last phase of my workout on a slight hill - maybe a 15-20 degree grade, not significant. I felt pretty good going into my sprints with no physical pain or fatigue in my legs. After my 4th sprint, I was breathing a little heavy and thought 4 was good enough. But then my inner voice blurted, "You said 5 sprints, not 4." I had about 5 minutes before my daughters end of the season performance was going to start. "Yep, I said 5. Let's do it", I encouraged myself.
On my second stride on my right foot, I felt a pop in my Achilles area. I went down. "Did I just tear my Achilles?", I wondered. I had never experienced any sort of structural failure of my body - no broken bones, no torn ligaments, nothing. So, I had no idea what I should or shouldn't be feeling. Surprisingly, I was not in pain where I should have been. Thoughts raced through my mind about the implications of tearing my Achilles - recovery, rehabilitation, family vacation, our 10 year wedding anniversary. My stomach turned into knots.
I stood up and decided to put a little weight on it to see how it felt. I balanced myself on my left leg and gently put my right foot on the ground. I couldn't feel my calf muscle engage. I tried again and still nothing. It was one of the weirdest feelings (or lack thereof) that I had ever experienced. My fears compounded and the pain in my stomach intensified.
With my wife in route, I called a few colleagues that had experienced similar injuries for advice. Based on that information and the advice of the on-call nurse, I decided to go to the ER so that further damage could be avoided.
While in the ER, I hoped to get some advice from one of my favorite basketball players of all time.
No answer. :(
In the ER, they performed a simple test to access the damage to my Achilles. The doctor asked me to lie on my stomach with the bottoms of my feet pointed up to the ceiling. She squeezed my left calf muscle and pointed out the reaction of my left foot. Then, she did the same thing to my right calf - no response. She repeated the test. Same result. Her conclusion was that it was "at least" torn and recommended that I see a orthopedic surgeon and have an MRI done to confirm the damage.
An MRI on the following Wednesday confirmed that my Achilles was ruptured. Fortunately, it was a mid-lateral rupture with no damage at the heel. Here's what I learned from the process:
- Running uphill is one of the most frequent causes Achilles injuries.
- Go to the ER instead of waiting. They'll put your leg in a splint (foot should be at a downward angle) which will prevent further injury.
- Seek an orthopedic practice that deals with lots of sports injuries if possible. They see these sorts of injuries most often and should be up to date on the latest research and procedures.
- Achilles tears and ruptures mostly occur if there is some existing damage to the tendon. See an orthopedic surgeon if you have any pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, I did not have any pain or discomfort prior to the injury, so it took me by complete surprise.
- Complete ruptures (if no damage at the heel) can be treated without surgery if you receive the appropriate medical treatment within 3-4 days after the injury. It's still amazing to me that a completely ruptured tendon can heal naturally without surgery.
- Surgical repair of the Achilles has a 16x higher rate of nerve damage and infection with only a 2% improvement over non-surgical in strength, flexibility, and performance tests. Of 18 NBA players that have suffered the injury and returned to play, only Dominique Wilkins has returned to post equal or similar numbers with the average degradation of 2 PER (player efficiency rating) points.
- Recovery is a long, slow process. Make a plan and track your progress. The goal is to recover and not re-injure. It's a humbling process, but take your time.