Functional Rehab Key to Nonoperative Management for Achilles Ruptures

The fact that 12 of the 16 AAOS clinical practice guidelines for treating Achilles tendon ruptures are supported by “weak” or “inconclusive” evidence makes the recent JBJS Reviews article by Guss et al. on this subject all the more welcome.

The most emphatic point made by these authors is that functional rehabilitation protocols with early motion (and an associated shift away from long-term post-injury immobilization) have made a dent in the re-rupture rates historically seen with nonoperative treatment of Achilles tendon injuries, the incidence of which has increased in recent decades. The authors emphasize, however, that the delicate balance between loading and unloading of a healing Achilles tendon remains a rehabilitative challenge, and they encourage further research to identify which patients are more or less likely to experience success with nonoperative management.

The authors note also that the focus of outcomes research of different management methods has shifted from rates of re-rupture and infection to more specific functional measures—and, in some cases, to direct and indirect cost measures. For example, Guss et al. cite one meta-analysis that found that operatively treated patients returned to work almost three weeks earlier than those treated nonoperatively.

The authors also observe that the rate of deep vein thrombosis after Achilles rupture seems to be higher than that seen in other foot/ankle conditions, but they add that the majority of those thrombotic events are “unlikely to be clinically important.” Still, Guss et al. conclude that “prophylactic anticoagulation should be considered for older patients with an Achilles tendon rupture, including those treated nonsurgically.”

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