The University of Kansas Health System

Achilles Tendon Injuries – What You Need to Know

Bryan Vopat, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center, discusses whether Achilles tendon injuries are increasing in athletes. Even though it's your body's largest, strongest tendon, it can be sensitive to harm.

Q: It seems we hear about Achilles injuries all the time. Are they becoming more common?

A: I wouldn't necessarily say there's a trend toward more Achilles injuries. It may seem so because media coverage is more prevalent. When a higher profile athlete suffers damage, we become more aware of it because it's in the media.

Q: Is this injury common in high school or college athletes?

A: We don't generally see a lot of Achilles injuries in high school athletes. We do see some in college athletes. The biggest increase in this type of injury occurs as we get older. Achilles injuries are still relatively rare in high school and college athletes.

Q: Can you talk about how the increase in the size of athletes might affect these types of injuries?

A: There's a theory that the increased bulk, size and explosiveness of athletes may lead to more Achilles tears or ruptures. While we haven't quite seen that, it is a valid theory.

The thought is that being stronger or faster can cause more force to go across ligaments and tendons, creating damage.

Q: Who's at risk for an Achilles injury?

A: While everyone is at risk, the chances of an Achilles injury increases as we age. Our tendons become cross-linked and that makes them become more brittle.

Also, basketball players, sprinters and other athletes who make sharp cuts are a bit more likely to suffer such an injury. It often feels as though you've been kicked in the back of the heel – that's a common sign of an Achilles rupture.

In general, we lose flexibility as we age and that makes us more prone to Achilles injuries.

Q: What's the best way to avoid or prevent damage to your Achilles tendon?

A: Stretching exercises can help prevent injuries. Stretching your Achilles helps prevent the cross-linking of tendons, which can make them brittle. Basically, stretching increases flexibility, which reduces the likelihood of a rupture.

Another way to prevent injury is to train well overall and not just be a weekend warrior. It's more likely you'll be injured if you suddenly go out there on a weekend without warming up and performing other athletic activities throughout the week.

Q: About how long does it take to heal from a ruptured Achilles tendon?

A: Despite advances in the way we do surgery and the rehabilitation, recovery still takes about a year.

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