Preventing achilles tendon injuries

January 18, 2017, Rush University Medical Center
Preventing achilles tendon injuries
Credit: Rush University Medical Center

Nia Dennis could tell something was wrong as she began her tumbling routine during a gymnastics event. "When I started to launch into the air, I felt a pop, and my whole calf got tingly and cold," says Dennis, a former member of the U.S. women's national gymnastics team.

Dennis had ruptured her Achilles tendon, the band of tissue that connects the calf muscle in the leg to the heel bone of the foot. Her injury caused her to miss qualifying again for the gymnastics team.

More than 230,000 Achilles occur in the United States each year, and the number is rising. In response, orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians at Rush collaborated with the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association to launch a program to help stop ankle injuries from occurring. Called Ankles for Life, it's a public awareness program that provides athletes of all ages the tools to incorporate ankle injury prevention tactics into their workout and warm-up routines.

The physicians are on the faculty of the Rush Department of Orthopedic Surgery and also are members of the private practice medical group Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.

Achilles tendon injuries have increased 300 percent
While most common ankle injuries for athletes are usually sprains or fractures, there have been a rising number of patients with Achilles tendon injuries, according to the National Institutes of Health. The Achilles tendon can become painful after overuse and tear from too much force.

"It's like a big rubber band," says Simon Lee, MD, a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon at Rush. "If you think about stretching a rubber band and somebody comes across and cuts it, the two ends just come apart."

Foot and ankle surgeons reported a nearly 300 percent increase in Achilles tendon patients over the ten-year period from 2004 through 2013. 

Middle-age weekend warriors are at greatest risk of injury
The escalating number of athletes with ankle injuries, especially Achilles tendon injuries or ruptures concerns Johnny Lin, MD, a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon at Rush. "I believe it is partly because of increased competition today causing athletes to push themselves to higher levels, which can result in added stress to the joints, tendons and ligaments," he says. 

Lee notes that the feet and ankles bear the burden of weight for the whole body, and with so many athletes playing all year round, the ankle gets a lot of wear and tear, which can result in Achilles injuries. Although Achilles tears and ruptures can occur in all age groups, Lee says the fastest growing patient population is active people between age 30 and 50. 

"The fastest growing group seems to be the middle age weekend warriors who are staying active longer and doing more aggressive activities on weekends.," concurs George Holmes, MD, the director of the Foot and Ankle Section of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush.  

Stretching and strengthening exercises can help protect against injury
Weekend warriors often don't do enough to prevent ankle injuries. "They don't take the time to stretch or strengthen the tendons surrounding the ankle," says Matt Munjoy, MHA, president of the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association.

"The foot and ankle, which withstand a lot of pressure from the body, are areas most likely to be overlooked by athletes," explains Kamran Hamid, MD, foot and ankle surgeon at Rush. "The good news is that proper injury prevention and strengthening exercises can make a big difference in keeping athletes' feet and ankles healthy."

To combat ankle overuse, the physicians and IATA members recommend that athletes take the following precautions:

  • Cross train with non-weight bearing sports, like cycling or swimming.
  • Always use proper techniques.
  • Get adequate rest after a workout and perform ankle balance, stretching and strengthening exercises. 

Examples of these exercises can be found at www.anklesforlife.org in both a downloadable brochure and video format. The website also includes background on the most common foot and ankle injuries, treatment options and information on how to order complimentary gym bag tags with injury prevention tips.

Explore further: Achilles tendon injuries more likely in male 'Weekend Warriors' than others

Related Stories

Achilles tendon injuries more likely in male 'Weekend Warriors' than others

April 24, 2013
Male athletes are the group most likely to tear their Achilles tendon, according to a new study published in the April 2013 issue of Foot & Ankle International (FAI). The activity most likely to cause the injury was basketball, ...

Prevention programs significantly reduce ankle injuries in soccer athletes

September 7, 2016
Prevention programs are effective at reducing the risk of ankle injuries by 40 percent in soccer players, according to a new study appearing in today's issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (JBJS).

Nonsurgical and surgical treatments provide successful outcomes for an Achilles tear

January 9, 2017
A new literature review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS) found successful outcomes for an Achilles tendon tear with either minimally invasive surgery or nonsurgical bracing ...

Protecting ankles, feet from winter's assaults

January 11, 2017
(HealthDay)—From broken bones to frostbite, you're at extra risk for foot and ankle injuries during winter. But you can protect yourself, according to a surgeon who specializes in podiatry.

Achilles tendon ruptures missed in one of four cases, but surgery not needed for most

October 29, 2015
Achilles tendon disorders are common and often misdiagnosed, with about 25 percent of ruptures missed during initial examination, but the prognosis is favorable for the vast majority of patients, according to researchers ...

Recommended for you

Sitting for long hours found to reduce blood flow to the brain

August 20, 2018
A team of researchers with Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K. has found evidence of reduced blood flow to the brain in people who sit for long periods of time. In their paper published in the Journal of Applied ...

Balanced advice needed to address 'screen time' for children, study shows

August 20, 2018
Parents, health professionals and educators need clear and balanced information to help manage young children's use of mobile touch-screen devices in Australia, new research by Curtin University has found.

Students more likely to eat school breakfast when given extra time, new study finds

August 18, 2018
Primary school students are more likely to eat a nutritional breakfast when given 10 extra minutes to do so, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern University.

Like shark attack and the lottery, unconscious bias influences cancer screening

August 17, 2018
What do shark attack, the lottery and ovarian cancer screening having in common? It turns out our judgments about these things are all influenced by unconscious bias.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.