What's that got to do with a torn Achilles tendon 40 years later? Well...my point is that I don't know how it began, or what caused it, and come to find out, that's fairly common. Apparently, some people live their whole lives never realizing that they have a weak spot - that darn Achilles tendon...
One year ago (in October 2009) almost to the day, I fell off a step ladder and definitely stepped back hard on my left foot, but the pain wasn't severe at the time. Over a period of several months, though, I noticed that my left ankle was very stiff in the morning, or after a few minutes of sitting still (like at my desk at work). Then it began to actually hurt (quite a bit) after periods of rest, though the pain did subside after a few minutes, and usually didn't bother me again till I rested. What got my attention was that my knee and ankle started "popping" a LOT - and it got to the point that the pain and stiffness was pretty severe UNTIL both the knee and ankle popped.
This began to affect my usual routine of walking for about an hour each morning. First infringement on my lifestyle...
I think the "coup de grace" was when we moved in April (6 months after the pain and stiffness began). We had a two story house and I must have run up and down those stairs 50 times. Though I was careful to wear really good athletic shoes with good support, within a few days, I realized things had reached a critical point. My knee and ankle were swollen and I had to elevate the leg, pack it with ice, and take lots of ibuprophen - all of which were effective. But I was worried now, and finally went to my family doctor, who immediately referred me to an orthopedic specialist.
Now, I am going to sound like an old fart, but my first alarm went off when I met the doctor. She looked like she was a small child.
Her "bedside manner" was basically nonexistent. She looked at my foot for about 30 seconds, and sent me down the hall for an X ray. When she got the results, she immediately said I had no arthritis, no fractures (honestly, I could have told her that), and that she felt that the very obvious lump on the back of my ankle was bursitis and that I also had a Achilles tendonitis. She put me in an AirCast, telling me to wear it for one month, and return. She said she felt my ankle simply needed rest. She said I could take the Air Cast off when I got home each day from work, as long as I was sitting down for the most part. My instructions were to wear the cast for most of each day.
INSTRUMENT OF TORTURE
One month later, I returned for the evaluation. There was absolutely no improvement. At that point, the doctor told me (in under two minutes) that I would need to wear the cast for another 4 weeks, and begin physical therapy three times a week to stretch the tendon and improve my range of motion.
Here's where I think things really got off track. I believe I should have had an MRI at this point - because unbeknownst to us, there was a tear in the tendon - which was made WORSE by the physical therapy that I faithfully did for about three months. Finally, I just stopped going to PT because it just didn't feel right. I told them I was feeling burning and numbness and that things were no better, but I really got no response. In fact, they told me that I could take off the AirCast, and just exercise that ankle every day, and that things would gradually improve.
Meanwhile, I was doing some internet research of my own on the problem, and realizing that Achilles tendonitis (which was my official diagnosis) was a long, slow heal, so I pretty much resigned myself to just pushing through.
Well - pain is the great communicator, and my ankle began to communicate with me in a louder and louder voice. From August through September the pain became so disabling that I was spending most of every weekend with my foot elevated and on ice. I was going through bottles of ibuprophen like water. And then my sciatic nerve rebelled (probably due to the limping and favoring of that left leg) and I went to a chiropractor.
She gave me great advice. She told me that she could make me feel better, but that anything she did was a temporary fix, because my Achilles tendon was the source of the problem. She took one look at it and scheduled an MRI.
INTERESTING. The MRI showed a two inch, lateral high grade tear, as well as tissue damage. Basically, my tendon was hanging by a thread and could rupture at any moment. My chiropractor (my new personal hero) immediately asked me if I had a preference of orthopedic surgeons so she could refer me, and fortunately - I knew a good one.
Dr. Michael Langford had operated on my husband's elbow a few years ago, and is one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the area. He is swamped with patients, and the wait time to see him was months - but I asked if I could fax over the MRI results to him to see if I could get in earlier. This was effective - as soon as I did so, I got an immediate appointment.
He determined that the MRI was correct, and after consulting with his team, they determined that I needed surgery, and that I should wear the cast till we could coordinate my husband's work schedule and my leave of absence, which was about two weeks. He told me that based on the length of time I had been trying other methods, it was pretty obvious that a non surgical approach was not only not working, but counter productive - and I agreed.
So...we scheduled the surgery for October 15.