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Prisma Health orthopedists study impact of Achilles tendon rupture on the careers of professional athletes

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

GREENVILLE, S.C.—Prisma Health orthopedic surgeon Tyler Gonzales, MD, served as senior author in a group of six orthopedic researchers who reviewed 15 studies on return-to-play outcomes following Achilles tendon rupture in male professional athletes of the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and professional soccer leagues. Prisma Health’s Director of Orthopedic Research J. Benjamin Jackson III, MD, is also a contributing author in the study.

According to the results of their recent study published in Foot & Ankle International (FAI), professional athletes who experienced Achilles tendon (AT) rupture were unable to return to sport participation 24% of the time. For those who did return, it took roughly 11 months after the injury and efficiency ratings and statistics declined. This review offers data to help set goals and expectations for athletes returning to play after AT rupture.

“As professional leagues modified seasons [due to the pandemic] and players returned to sports without proper rest or preseason, we knew there could be injury consequences for athletes,” said Gonzalez, who also is an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia. “The players, coaches, managers and fans need to understand that we all want these players to come back and play, but we have to do it safely and within the appropriate timeframe so our players stay healthy and can perform at the highest level.”

The review included a total of 333 professional athletes who experienced an AT rupture. The group had an average age of 29 years old, seven years of experience within their sport, and follow-up time of two years. Almost 25% of the players could not return to their sport. Athletes who were able to return to play required about 11 months of rehabilitation, nearly double the estimated 6-month recovery for the general population. The player performance, durability, and career length were reduced following AT rupture, specifically for NFL, NBA, and professional soccer players.

“This study helps us better understand the performance outcomes and recovery process for professional athletes after an Achilles tendon tear,” said Gonzalez. “Surgeons can now use this knowledge to set expectations on rehabilitation and return to play for their patients. Additionally, this study should aid coaches, players, and managers in understanding the importance of preventing this type of injury and focusing on proper return-to-sports protocols.”

The review, Career Outlook and Performance of Professional Athletes After Achilles Tendon Rupture, appears in the April 2021 issue of Foot & Ankle International, the official journal of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS)FAI is published by SAGE Journals.

About Foot and Ankle Orthopedic Surgeons

Foot and ankle orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors (MD and DO) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the foot and ankle. Their education and training consist of four years of medical school, five years of postgraduate residency, and a fellowship year of specialized surgical training. These specialists care for patients of all ages, performing reconstructive surgery for deformities and arthritis, treating sports injuries, and managing foot and ankle trauma.

For more information about Prisma Health Orthopedics, visit PrismaHealth.org/Ortho.

About Prisma Health

Prisma Health is a not-for-profit health company and the largest healthcare system in South Carolina. With nearly 30,000 team members, 18 acute care and specialty hospitals, 2,947 beds, approximately 300 outpatient sites, and nearly 5,000 employed and clinically integrated network physicians and providers, Prisma Health serves more than 1.2 million unique patients annually in its 21-county market area that covers 50% of South Carolina. Prisma Health’s goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care, as well as conducting clinical research and training the next generation of medical professionals. For more information, visit PrismaHealth.org.

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