Athletes of all types are well aware of the frustrating danger of the Achilles tear. This injury can take a runner off their feet for months and make it impossible for them to exercise. However, it is possible to get back on track with your training if you follow these simple steps.
The Achilles Tendon
The Achilles tendon, also known as the calcaneal tendon, is located in the back of the leg and connects muscles found in the calf to the heel. It is the strongest and largest tendon in the body and is responsible for everyday movements such as standing on our toes when running, jumping, or walking. Although it’s very strong, the Achilles tendon is also vulnerable because of the limited blood flow to the area and the possible overuse/ high tensions placed on it.
Because the Achilles tendon is particularly important to any runner, injuring this part of your body can be devastating and set you back on your training for a long period of time while the tendon heals.
Recovery After Achilles Surgery May Be Imperfect
One of the most frustrating thing that runners are going to experience after Achilles injuries is a loss of strength, power, and endurance. This loss occurs because of the lengthy recovery period as well as the nature of the injury. In one study, it was found that nonsurgical treatments only helped a person regain 72 percent of the strength in their legs and only 70 percent of their power and endurance.
These rates were higher with surgery, allowing them to regain a vast majority of their running ability. That said, it isn’t easy to just jump back into the game and start running without a lengthy training period. This recovery time will take a lot out of a runner and require them to focus heavily on carefully acclimating their injured foot to the running experience.
Understanding the Achilles Recovery Period
To best understand how to train after Achilles injuries and surgery, it is essential to know how long the recovery phase lasts. For the first three to eight weeks, you are mostly focusing on having no pain while resting and to work towards walking without a boot. This process will take longer for some than it will others. Be patient and remove your boot only when your physical therapist or doctor says it is okay.
During this phase, you will be resting your leg and using ice, compression, and elevation to manage pain. Between weeks nine and 11, you will work on minimizing your foot and ankle swelling, trying to bear full weight in athletic shoes, and regaining your normal gait. Managing this period can be difficult, particularly if you still feel some pain during treatment.
From week 12 to 14, you will work on regaining full weight-bearing capacity while walking in your normal gait. Your physical therapy will most likely revolve around you trying to increase your flexibility as much as possible. After these weeks, you will mostly focus on increasing strength and flexibility to peak levels.
Training After Achilles Recovery
Just because you have gone through the recovery period doesn’t mean you’re ready to fully train. Your ankle is still going to be in a weakened condition and require less severe exercise. For the first several weeks after your doctor or physical therapist has given the okay for mild exercise, you can walk in an anti-gravity treadmill to boost your strength without suffering from severe strain.
Then, you can start walking and transition to jogging. Only start this period of your training when your health care provider is convinced you are ready. Make sure to wear ankle-support shoes to avoid any more serious injury. Start warming up and walking for 5 minutes, followed by a 1 minute run, slowing to a 3 minute walk and repeat those steps for a 30 minutes span, finishing with a 3 minute cool down.
Make sure to only increase your jogging time to a level that doesn’t put serious stress on your ankle. The moment you feel pain, stop jogging and sit down. As you slowly train your ankle with this process, it will get a lot stronger.
The goal here is to reach 10 minutes. Once you have, talk to your physical therapist or doctor about increasing your exercise intensity. By carefully following this procedure and checking with your physician, it is possible to get back into difficult training and avoid losing any of your running ability after an Achilles tear.