Achilles Tendon Rupture

Injured North Melbourne captain Andrew Swallow is looking at a 12 month break from the sport he loves. Two weeks ago, Swallow gathered the ball in space during the third quarter against cross town rival, Melbourne at Etihad Stadium when he collapsed with no one around him.

North Melbourne went on to win the game by 122 points without their leader at the helm; Swallow ruptured his Achilles tendon and required surgery to repair it. The durable on-baller had not missed a game since early in the 2009 season and now faces substantial time on the sideline.

Achilles tendon rupture

The Achilles tendon is a rope like structure that connects our calf muscles to the heel bone. There is an area within the tendon that has a reduced blood supply, and so the Achilles is one tendon most prone to inflammation and rupture. This hypovascular site is often the area in which approximately 80% of ruptures occur. Human tissue is viscoelastic; this means that these tissues can change shape under pressure, force or loading but will always return back to their normal state once these forces are removed. If tendons are stressed beyond their limit they may weaken and fail. For example, an elastic band stretches and returns to its normal shape quite easily…stretch it too far or beyond it’s capacity and it will break.

If you were at the game or saw the footage of when Andrew did this injury you will notice he was simply moving in a way he has done many times…nothing out of the ordinary for a footballer of his ability. Although, playing football at the highest level in Australia simply takes it toll and after 7 seasons and 143 senior games it certainly did for Andrew. Being a right footer, Andrew’s left foot and leg has been the stabilising and balancing leg used when kicking; hence this repetitive load placed on this left side could easily have resulted in some tendon deterioration and damage.

Recovery

Andrew Swallow underwent surgery to repair his Achilles last Sunday; now I am not a surgeon nor do I know which surgical procedure was performed but it would be safe to assume that the tendon would have been stitched back together, possibly even requiring a tissue graft. The recovery from a surgery such as this varies and return to full capacity is often unpredictable in elite athletes. A study of NFL players in the USA showed that about 30% of players who sustained Achilles’ tendon ruptures between the late 90s and early 2000s, never returned to play at the top level.

Dr Peter Larkin’s, one of our sports respected doctors and media personality, suggests that a 10-12 month time frame is often required  when recovering from an Achilles tendon rupture as it is a very significant injury to a midfield running player. As hawk Jarryd Roughead knows, this injury can be quite debilitating and recovery is not easy. Roughead ruptured his Achilles during the 2011 season and through a long and steady rehab program returned to play at AFL level 10 months later and has recently been p[laying at his very best! Andrew has a lot of work and recovery ahead of him and we wish him all the best during his rehabilitation.