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My Shrunken Calf – An Achilles Tendon Rupture Story

If you have undergone or are facing surgery to repair an Achilles tendon rupture, this post is for you.

I saw the movie trailer for Hercules starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson over the weekend, and noticed that his calves look good. Wait, what? Why am I looking at another guy’s calves?

Johnson, if you’re not aware, ruptured his left Achilles tendon while filming The Game Plan back in 2006. I ruptured my right Achilles tendon at around the same time in 2006. After almost eight years, his calves look good while mine are lopsided. I guess I have calf envy.

Achilles tendon rupture calf muscles back view.

Achilles tendon rupture calf muscles front view.

I am not comparing myself to The Rock. He is Hercules, and I am a mere mortal, but it did give me hope that I might be able to build my calf back up to its pre-Achilles surgery size.

Since I don’t know him and therefore can’t ask him directly, I consulted Google to see if I could find out what he did to rehab his shrunken calf. I found this recent picture on his twitter account:

Maybe it’s just the angle of the picture, but his left calf looks a bit smaller than his right. So maybe he hasn’t regained the full size of his calf, but it sure looks better than mine does.

I also found a Muscle & Fitness article that outlines his calf routine. According to the article, he does single leg calf raises on the leg press, standing single leg calf raises and seated calf raises.

When I was able to start lifting weights months after surgery, I did those exercises too, but probably not often, long or hard enough to see the difference.

It is time for me to try again.

If you have had Achilles repair surgery and have built your calf back up to normal size (or better), I would love to know how you did it.

If you haven’t had surgery yet, but have questions about what to expect, here is my story:

I ruptured my right Achilles in June 2006 when I was 38 years old. While playing on the first night of a new volleyball league, I jumped up to spike a ball and “POP”… I landed on the floor and looked around to see who had stomped on the back of my ankle, but nobody was there.

I didn’t know that I had ruptured my Achilles. All I knew was that I couldn’t lift my heel off the ground or push off the front of my foot. I put some ice on my ankle, hopped to my truck, called my wife and then drove myself to the emergency room. Luckily, I drove an automatic, because I couldn’t use my right foot and had to drive with my left (I don’t recommend this).

It didn’t take long for the doctor to determine that I had snapped my Achilles tendon in half. I believe the technique to diagnose an Achilles tendon rupture is called the Simmonds-Thompson test, which essentially shows if the foot moves when the back of the calf is squeezed (the indentation on the back of my ankle where my Achilles ruptured, was also a giveaway). The nurse wrapped up my ankle, gave me some crutches and sent me home to await surgery.

Thanks to my wife working the phone, it took four days for me to get into surgery. I have read that many other people have waited much longer.

Since this was an outpatient surgery, I was sent home after I woke up. Having my tiny wife push my big body out of the hospital in a wheelchair was a unique experience, but she was a trooper.

I was alert and able to work from home the next day. I don’t remember much pain in the area of the repair, but I do remember throbbing pain in my inner and outer ankle areas, which I assume was from swelling. The prescription pain relievers definitely helped.

I had been working out a bit before my injury, so I was ready for the crutches and the task of lifting my body into and out of the bathtub with my foot hanging over the tub. Crutches are a pain though, so I looked for a different solution. I found this great contraption called the oneCrutch that allowed me to have one hand free to carry things as I walked around the house. I don’t think it is made anymore, but the website has a link to the Freedom Crutch. I haven’t used the Freedom Crutch, so I can’t vouch for it, but it appears to be based on the same principle as the oneCrutch.

After my surgery, I learned that there are two different types of surgery: percutaneous and open. I am not a medical professional, but I have read that percutaneous surgery requires a smaller incision and results in a faster recovery. Here is an abstract from a medical study I found:

CONCLUSIONS: Percutaneous repair provides function similar to that achieved with open repair, with a better cosmetic appearance, a lower rate of wound complications, and no apparent increase in the risk of rerupture.

Unfortunately, I had open surgery and have the scar to prove it.

Achilles tendon rupture surgery incision and staples.

Here is a timeline of my surgery and initial recovery:

Day 01 – Surgery to repair Achilles (4 days after rupture while playing volleyball)
Day 15 – Bandages removed, first hard cast put on
Day 29 – Second hard cast put on
Day 48 – Second cast off, into a boot
Day 77 – No more boot, time to walk

It was about 11 weeks from surgery to walking in regular shoes. I assume that every case is a little different, so I have no idea if this will mirror your schedule.

I was freaked out when I tried to take my first step. I don’t know if other people have experienced this, but my right foot felt like it was broken (it wasn’t) when I tried to take a step for the first time. I guess it is because I hadn’t fully used it in such a long time. I don’t think that feeling lasted more than a few days, and after some time and physical therapy I was able to walk normally again and play sports.

If you are active and are worried about life after surgery, all I can tell you is that I can run, play volleyball, ride bikes, and do pretty much anything I want. Although My right Achilles tendon is stiffer, thicker and harder than my left, I haven’t had too many problems. I was worried about rupturing it again, but that worry has gone away. I do have pain and popping in my ankle, but I don’t know if that is from the initial injury or if it is just because I am old.

If you have any questions or would like to share anything about your injury or recovery, please leave a comment below.

December 2016 update:

After working to try to regain the muscle mass I lost during the recovery, I stopped trying. As you can see from the picture below, my calves are still out of balance by almost an inch (roughly 18 3/8? vs 17 5/8?). One of these days I hope to try again.

My out of balance calves due to full Achilles rupture

78 thoughts on “My Shrunken Calf – An Achilles Tendon Rupture Story

  • It is 11 months after my Achilles surgery and while I have followed all of the exercises given to strengthen my leg, I do not have the strength to do a full tippy toe up with my left leg and I have an awkward walking gate as well making walking distances difficult and putting a lot of stress on the knees. I am in my mid ‘60’s and have always been very fit. I just wonder how long it’s going to take to regain strength and a normal walking gate. Any thoughts?

    Reply
  • I feel your pain. I am 16 months post op and had the percutaneous surgery and my right calf is smaller than my left by an inch. And I have the female version of Rock’s calves lol! Honestly big calves I believe are genetic. I have calf envy as well. I do all kinds of calf work, calf raises, barre class, cycle for long periods putting most of the work on the recovering calf still it’s sad. I was back to exercising 4 months after the surgery (PT and gradual increase to cycling) I was back to tennis at 5 1/2 months. I have an appointment with the surgeon to look at scar tissue and the anchor that popped out from the bone that is very visible under the skin. The anchor backing out is rare and I can’t even find pics of this happening to patients anywhere.

    Reply
    • Yikes. Hope it’s just scar tissue or some other easily diagnosable issue that won’t require any sort of repair.

      Reply

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