The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in your body, and it helps your legs move with every step you take. And while it may be the strongest tendon in your body, when you consider all that is asked of it with every step you take, it’s not uncommon for the tendon to partially or fully rupture. When this happens, is surgery an inevitability, or can you get by with immobilization? Below, we take a closer look at when surgery is the best option for your Achilles tendon tear.
It’s encouraging to learn that both surgery and immobilization have high success rates when it comes to treating a torn Achilles tendon. With that in mind, you might assume that immobilization is the preferred treatment route, because in most cases doctors opt to avoid surgery if at all possible. However, the Achilles is somewhat unique, and the reason being relates back to its function. It is a strong and powerful tendon that helps you move your calf muscles as you walk, so you want it to be as strong as possible once recovery has occurred. In most cases, the Achilles makes the fullest recovery when surgery is pursued.
The Achilles often becomes stronger when surgery is pursued because of the mechanism of recovery. The torn ends of the tendon will be surgically reattached, helping to strengthen their bind and their eventual recovery. Essentially, surgery makes it easier for the tendon to heal, which helps it stay strong once recovery has run its course.
Statistics back up this understanding as well. Medical research shows that patients who undergo surgery for Achilles tendon rupture are more likely to have improved results at one-year post-op. These individuals are less likely to have issues when walking, running or wearing shoes at the one-year postoperative mark, and they also show a reduced likelihood of re-rupture compared to those who pursue immobilization. However, it’s worth noting that infection likelihood is non-existent in those who pursue immobilization, whereas about 1-3 percent of patients experience a deep wound infection as a direct result of their surgical operation.
Surgery is generally viewed as the preferred method for addressing a partially or fully torn Achilles tendon, but lifestyle factors also influence this decision. In general, young or active individuals should really consider surgery, because they are going to require a lot out of their Achilles for the rest of their life, so they’ll want to help it become as strong as possible and reduce their risk of a subsequent rupture. For older individuals who aren’t all that active, avoiding surgery may actually be the optimal route. This group is already less likely to suffer another rupture because they aren’t putting as much daily stress on the Achilles, and both a surgery or infection could have serious implications for their health, so immobilization is still preferred in some instances.
So if you have been diagnosed with an Achilles tendon tear, evaluate your lifestyle and the lifestyle you hope to pursue in the future. If you intend to return to sporting activities or keep an active lifestyle, we’re probably going to recommend a surgical operation. But if you’re in your golden years and have some health conditions that could complicate surgery success, we may walk you through the immobilization protocol. Either way, we’re here to give you the best chance possible at a full recovery. For more information about Achilles tendon tears and your treatment options, reach out to Dr. Neufeld and the team at The Centers For Advanced Orthopaedics today.