Back on the court

I had just caught the ball when I heard a loud crack and my left foot really started to hurt. With the help of my team mate I hobbled off the court. I could no longer put weight on my foot properly. The first thing we all thought of was a torn ligament, which is a typical volleyball injury. But it couldn't be that as I was not bent sideways. As there were still 40 minutes left of the game, I kept my foot up high in the air and cooled it down with some ice. After the game, the coach put on a bandage and took me home. I planned to go to the doctor the next day if necessary.


The next morning, my doctor gave the verdict that it was torn. Not one of the side ligaments, but the Achilles tendon. He felt my angle joint and a few centimetres above the heel he felt a small dint. A couple of subsequent simple tests confirmed his suspicion: first of all I tried to stand on my toes, which I could no longer do, then when in a seated position I tried to bend my toes downwards, which I couldn't do either. My doctor explained that a torn Achilles tendon is typical for my age group. Most patients who have this injury are aged between 40 and 50 years old. Typically a torn Achilles heel is the result of several years of chronic overloading. The tendon weakens accordingly and a sudden movement, especially a sudden acceleration or an abrupt stop as happens on the volleyball court, can cause it to tear.


In order to localise the extent of the rupture, my doctor ordered an MRI scan. This showed a complete rupture of the tendon with an extensive gap between both ends. In light of the scan results, I was told that an operation would be necessary. Careful treatment with a splint and a special shoe is often the case when the tendon stumps are located close to each other. With my consent, my doctor contacted one of his colleagues, a doctor specialising in orthopaedic surgery. The tear needed to be operated on within a week.


Just three days after the fateful volleyball match, I was admitted to hospital and after a couple of preparatory examinations I was operated on by the doctor the very same day. First of all my foot was restrained using a lower leg splint. The orthopaedic surgeon explained both during my initial visit and as he examined the surgical wound, that a few days after the operation I should try to put a little pressure on my foot again. I only had to wear the splint for the first couple of days after the operation. On the first day I still could not put any pressure on the splinted foot and had to walk with sticks. On the second day, before leaving the hospital I was given a special shoe with a raised heel and an inflexible sole. I was to wear this for at least six weeks. The wedge that raised the heel was gradually replaced by lower wedges under medical supervision, until the foot was horizontal again and I could place it on the floor.


After three weeks I started the prescribed course of physiotherapy in order to regain the original flexibility and strength. Alongside the physiotherapy and a programme of exercises to do at home, the position of my foot continued to change by lowering the heel insert, until I could finally place it down flat. I was amazed that after three months I could start to go for gentle jogs, although at first I felt a little unsure putting pressure on it. But the tendon had healed well and after five months I took up volleyball training again.


This report has an illustrative function. It is based on medical facts and serves to educate patients. The persons described are purely fictional.

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