Surgeon explains treatment, recovery for Achilles injuries like Terrell Suggs'

Dr. Lew Schon, chief of foot and ankle surgery at Union Memorial Hospital, shares his knowledge

May 03, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

Ravens outside linebacker injured his Achilles tendon during a workout last week and is expected to miss most — if not all — of the 2012 season.

Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is scheduled to see a foot specialist in North Carolina next week to determine the extent of the injury.

Dr. Lew Schon, the chief of foot and ankle surgery at Union Memorial Hospital, discussed, in general terms, what the surgery and recovery from such an injury entails.

How serious is a torn Achilles tendon for an NFL player?

The injury for an athlete is serious because without the Achilles tendon functioning, we don't have the ability to push off or jump or do any powerful movements of the lower extremities.

How is a torn Achilles tendon treated?

In a nonathlete, an Achilles tendon can occasionally be treated conservatively, with bracing and special rehabilitation and time. In general, patients do well and go back to nonathletic function. For "weekend warriors" in general, nonoperative treatment can be used, but most times, we opt for surgical treatment. We do that to restore power and decrease recovery time.

Unfortunately, with surgery, risks of infection and wound complications [increase]. The risk of re-rupture after surgery is lower than with nonoperative treatment. In general, high-level athletes will benefit from surgery because you can restore power and function with a lower risk of re-rupture.

Take us through what a patient such as Terrell Suggs might face in the coming days and weeks.

Generally, the surgery is done as outpatient surgery. The tendon is repaired with suture, and then afterward, after five to seven days, if the wound is healed, the limb is mobilized and therapy is begun. Some protocols will allow some weight-bearing in a protected fashion in the next 10 days to six weeks. Typically, we have them walk with the foot [in a brace] with a heel lift or the foot slightly down. The brace is repaired for strengthening and conditioning.

Between six and 12 weeks, the brace is brought to a more neutral position, and generally, people can do more aggressive activities, such as cycling and swimming. In terms of running, it varies depending on the magnitude of the tear and exactly what was needed surgically. Some people can return to jogging even at 10 weeks, and some go longer.

When might a football player such as Suggs realistically return to action after this injury?

In terms of full, aggressive play, it could be anywhere between three months and six months, depending on what was done. ... For someone like this [a high-level athlete], though, it's probably going to be more like six months.

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