I'm writing this for all the people who will stumble upon it after they rupture or tear their Achilles. Hopefully, this will be of help to you. Here's some background: I'm 43 years old, a runner and in good shape. Back on June 26, 2014, I tore my Achilles in my left leg playing racquetball with my wife. My family and I were on vacation so I went to urgent care the next day, found out the injury wasn't a break from an x-ray, and was wrapped up and given crutches.
The next week I went to the Ortho specialist and he told me the bad news: I had a ruptured Achilles. I had a MRI that same day and the next saw a surgeon. Here is where things blew my mind: The surgeon told me that I had a choice. I could get surgery or choose a non-surgical route. I never knew that a non-surgical option even existed to recovering from an injury of this sort. I thought it was surgery and that was that.
My surgeon told me (and before you rush off, please, please talk with your doctor first to see if a non-surgical option would work for you) that the recent medical literature showed that there really wasn't much of a difference between the surgical and non-surgical route. My surgeon gave me my options:
- If I didn't get surgery, I'd get a cast for 6 weeks, if all healed well, then I'd get a brace and go through physical therapy. He anticipated that I would be running again in 5-6 months.
- If I chose to get surgery, I'd be recovering for 10-14 days, then would need to come back in to get my stitches removed, then a cast for 6 weeks and finally a brace and physical therapy (for months as well).
Considering the non-surgical route meant that I wouldn't have to deal with the chance of infection or any complications related to surgery (mistakes: cutting into blood vessels, nerves, etc.), I opted for the non-surgical route.
Getting Around on Crutches
After my injury and before my cast, I had almost a week and a half of time. For those 10 days, I was on crutches. I went to work, helped around the house as best I could and got by. Being on crutches was hard. Really hard. The parking garage at my work was more than a block away from my office building and I needed to crutch on over in the humid and hot Philadelphia summer weather. A few days I'd get back to my car at the end of the day in the 94 degree weather and was dripping with sweat. It sucked. I'm not going to sugar coat things. It really sucked.
To put things into perspective: I have run 3 marathons and used to run 3 times a week. I am fairly fit but the upper body strength it takes to use crutches for an extended amount of time was more than I had. The palms of my hands hurt as well as my upper body.
I did the best I could, but it wasn't easy. During this time, I discovered a few things that helped me a lot and I'd like to share them:
- Wear a backpack. I had an extra one lying around from a recent 5K I had run (or get something like this lightweight one that even folds up). I brought that with me everywhere. I could put my iPad in it, a book, trash, pens, notepad, whatever. It made getting around with crutches a lot easier.
- Keep a trashbag with rubberbands in your backpack when you're out and about. In case it rains (and in Philadelphia, we get violent thunderstorms in the afternoons during the summer), you can protect your cast from getting wet. I asked and because of the type of injury I had I was not able to get a waterproof cast.
- Practice getting up from the ground without crutches. Why? You'll not be using the crutches for everything. Sometimes you might fall or be on the ground and need to get back up. Practicing helps you strengthen the muscles in your good leg. How did I do this? I would get on my knees and then push back with my hands so that I used my right leg (the good one) to push me up. Takes a bit of practice but it's doable.
- Think before you go anywhere. With crutches, before leaving, check you have everything you need in your backpack or in your pockets. Plan and organize so that you don't have to come back before you forgot something.
- Balance, balance, and more balance. I practiced balancing on my right leg. Considering that I'm a runner, I was lucky in that my leg muscles are strong. But I also made certain I wasn't doing stupid things: Hopping around on one foot. I always had my crutches near me.
- Take your time. In the middle of the night, I'd sometimes have to go to the bathroom. Using crutches in the dark when you're groggy can be dangerous. Take a few moments to wake up and make sure you're well balanced before using the crutches.
- Use your butt. I tried using the crutches going upstairs and downstairs and one night I nearly fell backwards but caught myself just in time. It's just not worth it. I sat on my butt, kept my leg out, carried the crutches in my left up and scooted up the stairs backwards. For coming down, I did the same thing (but faced forward). Slow and easy. Might take more time, but at least you'll not fall and break your neck.
- Get a closed container that you can put drinks in that you can carry in your backpack. I like this Nathan water bottle because once I'm healed up I can use it for when I go running. It's cheap and durable.
Swelling and Pain
For the first week, I had lots of pain and swelling in my foot. I elevated my foot on a ramp (hey, you might as well use what you have lying around the house) on my bed and then used lots of ice those first few days. (Again, check with your doctor. Mine told me to ice for 20 minutes and then keep off for 30. Don't overdo the ice.)
When I was at work, I kept my foot up on a chair. I also have been focusing and making an effort to keep wiggling my toes so that the circulation keeps going through my foot and I've been told that this aids in healing.
When the pain was too much, I took 2 Tylenol. For the first week, I kept taking it according my doctor's instructions to help with the inflammation. Now 2+ weeks out, I'm not taking it as much. However, my doctor (again, check with yours) recommended that I take an aspirin a day to help prevent any blood clots.
Going Crutch Free
I talked to my doctor about other alternatives than crutches and he recommended a knee crutch or a roll about. I did some research and talked to people. The roll about (basically a scooter that you kneel on) looked okay, but I kept wondering what would I do if I came to stairs. My doctor had a great answer for that: "You go around." Considering I didn't want to get stuck somewhere with the damn scooter, I looked into the knee crutch and stumbled upon the iWALK 2.0 Hands Free Crutch.
I had never heard of it, but figured I'd give it a try. It's only been five days into my owning the iWALK 2.0 Hands Free Crutch, but I'm really liking it. Is it perfect? No. But it is allowing me to go hands free and makes life a lot easier. I have taken the trash out using the iWALK 2.0, walked about 5 blocks straight, gone all day at work, cleaned around the house, walked up and down small sets of stairs and can now help with dinner. I couldn't easily do any of those things with crutches. Considering I'm in a cast for at least 6 weeks, I went with the iWALK 2.0 because I didn't want to be in pain any longer and wanted to stop feeling helpless around the house.
Again here's what I have learned so far:
- Take it easy. I like holding onto the left handle and swinging my leg forward. I go slow, but I feel steadier that way.
- Steps can be accomplished but that first time going down a step is frightening. You're supposed to lead with the iWALK 2.0 and that freaked me out. I was worried that I would fall, but my stability was good and I was fine. Still, I waited until day 2 before I started trying steps.
- Watch the YouTube videos. Sounds dumb, but seeing how someone else was walking up and down the stairs with the thing helped me.
- Make sure you follow the instructions and have a friend, spouse, family member (whomever) help you with the fitting.
- My knee has bothered me a bit, but it's not horrible. I'm trying to use the knee crutch to help me get to point A and B--not to run a marathon. I'm not trying to be Superman on it so that I'm not over using it.
- Practice putting it on getting out of the car if you're able to drive (I got lucky as it was my left Achilles). This takes balance and patience. Try this when you're not in a rush. Again, take your time.
I'm finishing up my first full week in the cast. I have 5 more weeks to go before I go back to the doctor and see where things stand. Will I get out of the cast? Will he tell me I need more time? I don't know. But here's the trick: I'm not working on a magic countdown of days left. It's not helpful to me. I am coming to terms that I am injured, cannot put weight on my left leg for at least 5 more weeks and I need to adapt and learn.
I have a choice. I can be pissed off, angry and just miserable or I can be positive. I have chosen to be positive. Does it suck that people look at you like you're an alien using the iWALK 2.0 Hands Free Crutch or while using crutches? Yes, but it's giving me a different way at looking at my life. Being a writer, I'm literally taking this experience as research for future novels. (Don't laugh, I did write a character in my book Faith: The Jovian Gate Chronicles as having a torn Achilles. Might as well use what's been given to you!)
Now for each day my mantra is:
"I will be okay. One day at a time. Be positive!"
Some days I have come home from work and am in lots of pain (this was when I was still using crutches--not so much this week in using the iWALK). Some days I'm just so damn tired that I just want to put my foot up and go to sleep. I am taking the time to read more, get caught up on TV that I had wanted to see, spend time playing Magic: The Gathering with my son, reading to my daughter and sleeping. Sleep is good. Sleep helps heal me. Getting more sleep, eating right and being positive are my goals each day. Sometimes I fail and get a bit cranky (my wife and kids will attest to this), but I am trying. And, for me, that's the key thing: I'm not giving up. I don't want someone to do all my work for me and take care of me around the clock. Rather, I have learned what I can and cannot do and am working on asking help as I need it. None of this is easy, but as I keep reminding myself: It's not the end of the world either.
To help me put things in perspective, I'm wearing an Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation bracelet. Alex was around 5 when she decided to start a lemonade stand to help raise money for sick kids. Alex herself had cancer and eventually died from the disease. But for years, she fought on, raising money for other kids. Since I live in the area where Alex's family is, I help raise money for their foundation when I run half-marathons in order to help other kids fight cancer. And if Alex had the strength to fight while dying from cancer, I can limp along with my injury. Again, perspective. Be positive.
I'll be back after next week. Thanks!
I take a break and talk about writing, inspiration and connection. Beats my complaining about still being in a cast!
Post about overcoming apprehension as I wait for the decision on whether I get out of the cast or not.
Week 7 and 8
You thought I was done? Nope. I've a long way to go!
I'm walking about but have about 4 months to go until I'm walking without a limp or thinking that I had an injury.
A quick recap of my injury and where I am now in the recovery process and how far I have yet to go.
My final wrap up of going to the doctor for the last time and what the next 6-8 weeks will look for me.
Overview and Reflection: How Long Does It Really Take to Heal from a Torn Achilles?
After I finished my weekly recaps, I went through physical therapy and then decided to write a blog post about sharing my experience on how long it really takes to heal from a torn Achilles. Check it out.