Last year, while the new Golden State Warriors basketball center DeMarcus Cousins was playing with the New Orleans Pelicans he attempted to rebound a free throw and ended up in pain and went down on the court after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Unable to put pressure on his left foot following the injury, Cousins subsequently underwent orthopedic surgery to repair the tendon. It was a slow and tedious recovery, especially as Cousins watched his new team play for months while sitting on the bench. A year after the surgery he began to play and is a contributing factor to the Warriors success.

“In these types of injuries, surgery offers the best chance for a full recovery, particularly in athletes,” explains SRO foot and ankle specialist Dr. Mark Schakel. “Surgery is most often the treatment of choice for active people who intend to resume demanding a sports career.”

Several high-profile players, including Kobe Bryant and Patrick Ewing, have torn their Achilles tendons, and while they returned to play in the NBA, they were not the same players they were before the injury. One thing Cousins had going for him is that he is younger than most who suffer this injury, which may help his recovery.

“Surgically, Achilles tendon tears are comparatively easy to repair. A small incision is made over the back of the ankle, making it possible for the torn tendon ends to be sutured back together,” Schakel explains. “The greater issue for highly athletic patients is the recovery period that follows surgery. These types of injuries require physical therapy for up to a year or more, so the leg can recover enough for competition.” A period of immobilization is required to regain ankle range of motion and leg strength via physical therapy. Many athletes must undergo physical therapy for a year or more before the leg recovers enough to compete. Although the healing rates for surgery are high, it is still very difficult for athletes to fully recover their explosive power which is a real problem for professional basketball players.

Achilles Tendon in Sports

The Achilles tendon is one of the strongest and most significant tendons in the body, connecting the muscles of the back of the calf to the heel bone, and is crucial for normal walking and running. A complete tear of the Achilles tendon usually occurs in patients between of 30 and 50 and is more common in men than in women. It may seem to occur spontaneously without a noticeable injury to the tendon but is also likely to occur as a result of inflammation due to repetitive strain.

The Achilles tendon is designed to withstand extraordinary forces during sporting exercises, particularly those associated with pivoting. The two most common types of injuries affecting the Achilles tendon is overuse and inflammation resulting in Achilles Tendonitis and tearing, such as Cousin’s apparently experienced.

Treatment for Achilles Injuries

An Achilles tendon can tear as a result of being aggressively overstretched and it is quite common for athletes to experience while playing sports. This type of tear may be partial or complete and most commonly occurs just above the heel bone. A snap or cracking sound may accompany the actual injury followed rapidly by pain and swelling near the heel. Indication of a ruptured Achilles tendon usually includes an inability to bend the foot downward or walk normally.

Following surgery for a complete rupture the ankle is be kept stable for up to 12 weeks in a cast or with the help of a walking boot.

A torn ligament may also be managed non-surgically with a below-knee cast. This allow the ends of the torn tendon to heal naturally. Such a nonsurgical approach can require a longer convalescence for healing, and there is a higher chance that the tendon might re-rupture. “In most cases, surgery offers a better chance of full recovery and is often the treatment of choice for active people who wish to resume sports.”

About SRO’s Foot & Ankle Program

SRO’s Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Program provides state-of-the-art care for all types of problems related to the foot and ankle. This includes but is not limited to: trauma of the foot and post-traumatic reconstruction of the foot and ankle, foot deformities related to neuromuscular, arthritic and congenital conditions, tendon injuries of the hind foot and ankle, sports-related injuries and foot complications of diabetes mellitus.

About Dr. Schakel

As an orthopaedic Surgeon and Director of The Foot & Ankle Program at SRO, Dr. Schakel treats problems of the foot and ankle. Dr. Schakel is one of only a few fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeons in Sonoma, Mendocino Lake, and Humboldt counties. He is the director of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital’s Foot and Ankle Trauma Service. He has extensive experience in treating problems of the foot and ankle, including reconstructive, traumatic, sports-related, and congenital problems. He has treated patients of all ages, walks of life and activity levels, including high school and college athletes.

Dr. Mark Schakel and the SRO Foot and Ankle Program emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive evaluation in order to develop a proper diagnosis. Then he uses the latest treatments and surgical techniques to restore function and relieve pain. For more information visit SRO Foot & Ankle or call 707-546-1922.