Calves - 12/2016

My Shrunken Calf – An Achilles Tendon Rupture Story

If you have undergone or are facing Achilles tendon repair surgery, 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.

[ Note: I originally posted this to a different site in 2014 and moved it here in 2017, which explains the outdated movie reference. ]

My calves about 8 years after I ruptured my right Achilles tendon.

My calves about 8 years after I ruptured my right Achilles tendon.

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.

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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.

The incision a few weeks after surgery to repair my ruptured Achilles tendon.

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.

Calves - 12/2016

8 comments

  • Helena

    My name is Helena.I am 22 years old. I injured my Achilles while playing Netbal.i too bad a open surgry on the 19 October 2017.I took off my cast on the 29th November. My cut looks similar to yours honestly. Walking is really hard for me. My heel is sore and I feel stiffness..I don’t know what to do really. Please help me

    • Ole

      So sorry to read about your injury and sorry for the late reply. First and foremost, I think you should contact your doctor if you feel like something is wrong. How are you doing now? I hope that the pain is gone and that the stiffness is getting better.

  • Gary

    Ruptured mine in Jan of 2016 when I was 52 and had the open surgery you had mentioned. It was a very long recovery process and I was a good patient, doing all the exercises that were recommended and then some. I have always been into physical fitness, exercising regularly, so this was nothing new to me. Even with my dedication to getting myself back to “normal”, I am not there yet and not sure if I ever will be. I am coming up on two years since the injury/surgery. I am able to run, jump, ride a bike and pretty much anything else I used to be able to do, but just not as good. The “normal” I am continuing to strive for is the size of my calf. There is a noticeable difference between the two. There is nothing I believe I could have done in the past to help improve the size. I went to physical therapy as soon as recommended and continued on my own well after the sessions stopped. I have not stopped trying to build up the strength and size of the impacted calf, but am starting to realize that I may be at a plateau with results. I will continue to do my exercises with hope in my mind, because what else do I have at this point.

  • Steve

    Going on 4 months since my rupture. Went the non operative route. Doc plain out told me not to expect the affected calf muscle to ever be as big and strong as it was pre Injury just gotta accept that

  • Lesley

    I didn’t rupture my Achilles but I was on my way to that. Had 2 large bulges on both Achilles and did Platelet injections (extremely painful) steroids etc. but I finally tore my Gastroc (calf muscle that attaches to the Achilles) in 2009-2010 playing soccer (puts me in my early 40’s). Did rehab but was never able to do a single calf raise but b/c I could still run I went back to playing soccer. Bad idea – I tore my ACL, LCL and meniscus as soon as I went back. That was September 2010. In October after my ACL surgery I had another surgery to debride my Achilles’ tendon and remove the bone spur. Had a second surgery in December 2010 to remove deep tissue sutures that caused an allergic reaction. Started walking in February 2011. A lot of atrophy in my thigh. I did all the prescribed PT but knee is still weak and still can’t do a single leg calf raise… The debridement did wonders for the Achilles though I have so much more range of motion! Anyway, in PT now for my other ankle with torn ligaments and a bone chip. Learning that I may never be able to do a single leg calf raise. And my calves have shrunk tremendously at least 2 inches. At least now I can wear any pair of high knee boots!

Talk to me, Johnny.