Saturday, January 5, 2013

How to Heal an Achilles' Tendon

Ah, Achilles, the hero of grief. That is the tendon I ruptured one September afternoon. It's January, and I'm back on my feet, but it has taken a LONG time. Here is a bit of a timeline for anyone unfortunate enough to tear this tendon or as a cautionary tale for those of you who think you don't need to stretch.

September 25, 2012: Ouch!

I tore the Achilles' tendon in my right foot while coaching the Emerson girls flag football team. It hurt. A LOT. But somehow the adrenaline got me through and I made my way back to my second floor classroom on crutches to teach fifth and sixth period before heading to the ER at Kaiser in West LA. 

This is my right foot after the diagnosis: Right Achilles' Tendon Rupture. They sent me home with my right leg in a splint, crutches, pain killers, and an appointment in orthopedics the following week.

September 25 - October 3: Waiting for Surgery

I was home with my leg elevated, extremely elevated, and on crutches. The toughest part was not being able to take care of my six-month-old daughter. I couldn't put any weight on the foot and with the crutches I couldn't carry her anywhere. It sucked. It was also challenging to shower because I couldn't take the hard splint off. Once I consulted with the Orthopedic Surgeon, he had the techs create a removable splint so I could shower more easily, but we invested in a plastic shower stool to prevent falls. Having a removable shower head was also a huge help.

October 3: Surgery

So, I didn't have to get surgery. The doctor said it looked like a complete rupture, went through the complications that come with surgery, and then left it up to me. If I wanted to remain active, the chances of a rerupture were slightly diminished by having surgery. The scarring at the heel is apparently an issue with some people post op. I decided to have the surgery. I am an athlete. I couldn't imagine never having any push off my right leg so under the knife I went! It only took a couple of hours and I didn't have to spend the night in the hospital, but I did have to fast all day because of the anesthesia.

October 3-14: Splint, Crutches, Elevate

After surgery they put a soft splint and wrap on my leg, and again, I couldn't get it wet. This was probably the roughest time. The pain was bad for a few days and I still had to keep it elevated constantly. Even when I went back to work on the 10th, I had to keep it propped up all day or the swelling worsened. I was on crutches, but I managed to get back to work, go to a wedding, and a first year birthday party. So, I was still able to get around.

October 15 - 23 Cast

For a couple of weeks, they put me in a cast. It was blue and pretty but I couldn't get it wet and it was itchy. I wasn't bummed when it came off.

October 24 - November 15: Boot with Crutches

Aw, the boot. For Achilles' surgery recovery, they put all these foam layers inside the boot to keep your toe in a pointed position. The boot made showering easier, but I was still on the crutches, still couldn't put any weight on my right foot, and had to sleep in the boot. On the upside, the pain had dissipated and I didn't have to keep it elevated as much. I even went on a field trip in a wheel chair.

November 16 - December 16: Weight Bearing in Boot

Goodbye crutches!!! What a relief to be weight bearing in the boot! I could carry Kiara again, and get a drink from the fridge. I could cook! Still couldn't drive, but I became so much more mobile at this point, and each week as I took a layer of foam out to bring my foot from pointed down to level I was getting closer. My hips hurt every time I took a layer out, but every week I felt myself getting back to walking normally!

December 17 - January 5: Two Shoes and PT

Goodbye boot, hello shoes. Yes, almost three months after surgery I was in two shoes, limping pretty noticeably because the tendon was so tight, but walking. You can't really tell in the pictures, but look, I'm short, no longer height assisted by a boot. And there, in that other one, boots, two of them! This week, four full months post-surgery, I can finally drive. With physical therapy, flexibility exercises, and strength conditioning I expect to be getting back on the court soon!

I still have a couple more months before any quick twitch movements and I am just now coming to the realization that I am never going to be the same. Still, I'll be back, people. I might not have the first step I once did, but I have to be able to beat Kaira at one-on-one until she's taller than me. Two bits of advice for anyone with a rupture: be patient with your self and your recovery and ask for help. There's no way I could have made it without the help of my partner, co-workers, and friends.


  1. Bill was not given the option to have surgery on both ripped Achilles tendons. Age discrimination. He has to wear special shoes. He also has no connecting tendon in his right arm. No more showing off while playing basketball. Or hiking up waterfalls.

    Consider yourself lucky. Watch out if you ever do downward dogs. STRETCH first. That's how I slightly ripped mine. The yoga class was so quiet everyone could hear my tendons tearing. No total rupture, just embarrassment . I had a few sessions of physical therapy in Florida. Shands Hospital had an infrared lazer machine that worked wonders on speeding recovery.

    We are all happy you are recovering, especially your students.

    1. Thanks, Caren. So sorry about Bill's tendons. No fun! You mentioned the yoga, downward dog thing and I've thought of you every time I've stretched!

  2. How's your legs now? I also had Achilles tendonitis and I didn't know how serious it was until I consulted to an orthopedic surgeon. Dr Grossman scheduled me for stem cell treatment for 5 weeks and I can tell that it was successful. My left leg was back to normal and I can play ball again. :)

    1. Doing well now, Michael. Thanks for asking. Tendonitis seems to be very different than a rupture but great your are back on the court!

  3. Forgive me for saying this,but your recovery seems to be going fairly fast, I`ve seen people take 6-7 months to get to where you are now.

    1. Yes. I had no complications post-surgery so I'm lucky!

  4. This is the best way to handle and treat the Achilles tendon. I think this information can be very useful for the patients who are passing through this horrible disease.
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  5. How long were you out of work?

    1. Two weeks. I went back to work for my own mental health. It wasn't easy, but I had someone who could give me a ride, and I moved my classroom to the first floor to make it easier.