The following is a public service announcement. You probably won’t care about it unless you’ve ruptured your Achilles, you plan to rupture your Achilles in the future, or you like seeing me in pain (sicko).
Here’s the story of the recovery period of an Achilles tendon – your results may vary.
April 25, 2012: D Day
It was a mild New Orleans evening as we looked to keep our winning kickball season going; I was excited to get back on the field to participate in a sport that requires little talent. Little did I know this would be my last time to walk normally for a long time… ok, I already walk with a swagger, but you know that. Pre-injury picture:
April 30, 2012 (5 days post ATR): Surgery
To make a long story longer, here I go. The ATR surgery requires a five inch incision on the back of your leg from your heel up your calf in about a one hour procedure. It was a complete rupture (tear) so the doctor literally found both ends, overlapped them, and stitched them back together. I’ll spare you the nasty post-surgery picture; if you really want to see it, email me and I can send it to you (but just know I’ll think you’re weird).
I came out of surgery around 10:30am and felt no pain because of the “block” and anesthesia. At that point, I thought I could get myself into the wheelchair and proceeded to flash everyone in the waiting room. I’m not used to wearing gowns.
The pain didn’t hit until about 8pm that night. I didn’t start taking the pain pills because I wanted to see what it felt like before I took them. Worst idea ever. It hit me like a giant purple My Little Pony and the Percocet took quite a while to catch up. The horrible pain lasted for 1.5 days.
About a week after the surgery, my friends thought it’d be fun to take me to Whole Foods in a chair with wheels (it wasn’t a wheelchair).
May 11, 2012 (16 days post ATR)
The doctor removed my splint so he could check the wound and then put on a cast, all was healing as expected so far. This is when I saw the incision for the first time; it required 16 staples and looked as bad as you can imagine.
The next two weeks were terrible. I struggled to get around our house to do even the smallest of things. I have to go up three steps to even get to the kitchen, this was the worst! Sometimes I would lift my butt up on each step and then twist around when I got to the top.
May 27, 2012 (32 days post ATR)
My brother-in-law got married and was nice enough to ask me to be in the wedding party. You can read the full story on my guest post at Susan Cooper’s blog, but long story short, I still danced:
I opted for the “knee walker” because it was a heck of a lot better than crutches. It was actually kinda fun to ride on once I got over the whole “pride” thing.
June 1, 2012 (5 weeks post ATR)
The cast was removed, and I could finally start working on recovering from the ruptured tendon. They put me in a boot which allowed some movement, but for the first week I was on crutches while I learned to put weight on my foot again. Then it was time to learn to walk again.
June 8, 2012 (6 weeks post ATR)
Time for physical therapy! The first few sessions were mostly to start gaining movement in the ankle. Since I hadn’t used it much in the last 8 weeks, the pain from the ankle tightness was only beat by the pain in the tendon. It’s weird how tight the tendon felt since they literally shortened it.
June 22, 2012 (8 weeks post ATR)
Off with the boot! I was so excited to finally be out of the cast, crutches, and boots… time to really start recovering! No more shower seat or anything… although it was kind of nice to sit down in the shower.
July 18, 2012 (12 weeks post ATR)
The moment of truth was here … could I run on my own again outside? My PT session included “anti-gravity” runs at this point where you dress up in stretch pants with a tutu like thing (see below) so you could run without all of your weight, but I hadn’t explored the great outdoors yet.
I made it about 30 feet… and couldn’t have been more excited! No more fearing getting around the house, no more trapped inside all day… I could finally continue on with life.
August 1, 2012 (14 weeks post ATR)
The day we all dream of, physical therapy graduation. In total, I did about 8 weeks of physical therapy with two sessions per week. The staff was great and they helped to push me just fast enough to continue recovering without getting discouraged. I was also pretty motivated to get back to normal so that helped.
August 17, 2012 (16 weeks post ATR)
At this point, I’m one week away from the four month mark of when I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I can’t tell you how many times I asked the doctor or physical therapist what I could have done to prevent this. The only answer was… nothing, it was just bad luck.
Yesterday I ran 1.6 miles. I’m working my distance up each week and hope to run a 5k with my wife at the end of September. They say a full recovery takes 6-12 months, and I think I’m fully on my way to hitting the early end of that. Yay.
In the end, some things are out of our control, and the most important thing is how we react to them. I definitely got down at times, but overall I think I maintained a positive outlook which helped me recover faster. If you’re going through an ATR injury or something similar, know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. This concludes the public service announcement.
UPDATE: Exactly one year after my Achilles tendon rupture, my wife and I hiked 11 km around Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in Australia. Even more exciting, three weeks before that, we trekked 18km in New Zealand on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was a little sore at times, but I’m happy to report that overall it felt great!
It was partially “thanks” to the surgery that we decided to leave our jobs and travel the world for a full year. You can read that story here.