Predicting Your Next Achilles Rupture: An Introduction

Welcome to my Achilles Blog. Because it is my first post this piece will probably be slightly longer than my future updates. Today, I’d like to cover some background information and explain my reasons for devoting an entire blog to a bit of tissue in my left leg.

At the age of 19, I ruptured my left Achilles tendon on April 27, 2013 while competing at a Scottish highland dance competition in southern Maryland. There really is no convenient time to rupture your Achilles tendon, but the week before the Eastern Regional Championship is probably one of the least-desirable times. It happened during the Full Tulloch, my fifth and final dance of the day. I had just landed from a split high cut when I heard the infamous popping sound that is associated with the dreaded injury. It felt as if the stage had dropped out from under me. I scanned the platform for the hole I was certain I had just smashed into the floorboards but, upon finding none, chalked it up to a fluke and readied myself for the next pivot turn. Only at this point did I realize I could not bear weight on my left foot.

That Monday my doctor confirmed my Achilles rupture and presented me with two treatment options; surgical and nonsurgical methods. I chose to have the surgical procedure because it offered a shorter recuperation period and a smaller chance of re-rupture. I was encouraged when my doctor gave me a recovery time of 7-12 months; I would be back dancing by the 2014 regionals! I went through with the surgery the following week.

Now, 18 months later, I have yet to return to dancing. After countless physical therapy sessions and hundreds of hours spent in the gym, the strength of my left tendon and calf has plateaued. I cannot do a single leg heel raise and my jumping is strained and uncomfortable. Jumping on the balls of my feet, a requirement for highland dancers, is impossible because I cannot keep my heel from hitting the ground on a single-leg hop. Isokinetic testing revealed that the strength on my left side is a whopping 30% lower than on my right side. 

In hopes of finding a solution, my wonderful mother found two highly respected orthopedic surgeons in Baltimore. The first doctor told me that my tendon had become overstretched and therefore lacked the tension between the heel and calf muscle that is necessary for strength and explosiveness. I balked at his recommendation of surgery and he obliged by writing me a 6-week prescription for physical therapy. This, of course, was futile. A similar scene took place when I visited the second doctor. He also wrote me a prescription for therapy, though he seemed to have little faith that it would help me recover. He was right.

Tomorrow, November 14, 2014, I will head in for my second operation. To shorten my elongated Achilles, a small section of tendon will be removed while the remaining portion is sutured back together. It’s basically a re-rupture but in a controlled environment. I will go through the entire recovery process for a second time, though hopefully with much more success.

During my last recovery I was constantly searching for information on how my rehabilitation should be developing. I wanted to see how my progress compared to other competitive athletes, but instead I found a lot of multi-page studies filled with medical jargon and brief, uninformative comments from “weekend warrior,” middle-aged basketball players. By documenting my rehab process I hope to provide a future dancer or other athlete with a better idea of what they can expect for their own comeback. I’ll be updating this page periodically right up until I return to dancing next year.

Until then, stay tuned!