SportsDoc Update: Achilles 9/16/2013
1280 The Zone - September 16th, 2013
Alvaro Saborio / Kobe Bryant - Achilles Strain/Tear/Calf Strain
This injury is common in athletes doing explosive acceleration and deceleration sports of which basketball is a prime example. The calf muscle is the second strongest in the body and originates behind the knee then goes down the back of the leg and turns into the Achilles Tendon. Strains or tears in either the muscle or the tendon can be mild or severe, and the tendon can even be a complete tear (Kobe Bryant). Injuries in the muscle/tendon are graded just like hamstring injuries – Grade I, Grade II and Grade III. If the injury is in the calf muscle, like Saborio’s milder strain (grade I), it can be resolved with rest from running and jumping, some therapy (ice and heat), a lift in the shoe, some stretches, and maintaining conditioning with biking or some other non-impact activity until an individual can hop on it with no pain. That is usually 10-14 days for a mild strain, 2-4 weeks for a moderate strain and 4-6 weeks for a severe muscle strain. The difficulty is knowing when to return to play because while it can feel normal to jog and run easy, it may not be ready to jump and move at a Major League Soccer level so athletes may have a set back and take another week to heal. While MRI’s might substantiate the injury they really aren’t necessary to evaluate or treat the injury, but in pro-athletes they seem to be done, anyway, because they have unlimited resources (this is an editorial comment).
Achilles strains, which are in the tendon, are lower down from the calf muscle in one of the strongest tendons in the body. In medical terms, a strain is the same thing as a tear and means disruption of the fibers of the tendon which is similar to a rope. Milder strains or tears can be treated like the muscle strain or tear (see above). More severe (Grade III) strains/tears, as Kobe Bryant had, are most often dealt with surgically in the competitive athlete. Once surgery is done to repair the torn tendon the athlete will be on crutches and in a boot for 6-8 weeks then rehabbing for another 2-6 months to regain full strength. Even then, there is often a slight strength loss compared to normal. It is often more difficult to completely recover from than ACL surgery.
With appropriate care and rehab in the weekend athlete, strains of the calf muscle or Achilles Tendon can heal and resumption of sporting activity should be able to be resumed. To see how to do some exercises go to my YouTube feed (russtorontosportsmed channel) and look for the video on calf exercises.