There are words in sports that you just never want to hear. One of the words that sends immediate shivers down your spine is Achilles. It virtually guarantees a player is about to miss the rest of the season and potentially longer depending on when the injury happens. It’s also an injury that has ruined NFL careers.
Unfortunately, Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah is the latest to fall victim to an Achilles injury. The team’s former third overall pick ruptured his Achilles in the final quarter of the Lions’ Week 1 game with the San Francisco 49ers.
Okudah will unfortunately miss the entire season. Beyond that, there are a lot of questions. We reached out to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bruce Stewart of Shoreline Orthopedics in Holland, Michigan for answers on Okudah’s recovery and his future. Here’s what he had to say:
First off, let’s take quick moment to understand what the Achilles is and what role it plays.
“The Achilles tendon is the tendon on the back of your heel the connects the calf muscle down to the foot. It gives you the power to jump and sprint. So when people have these injuries, you can still walk, but you lose that that explosiveness.”
What sort of recovery time should you expect for a ruptured Achilles?
“So typically for an athlete this will be treated surgically. So I would expect that he would undergo surgery within the first week of the injury happening. He’ll be walking around in a boot with crutches for typically the first six weeks. To get back to actually playing, it will be six to 12 months.”
Once Okudah is back, should we expect that the injury will affect his career? Will his progress be stifled?
“Most people are able to get back to a high level. For high level athletes you might lose a few inches in your vertical if you’re jumping off that leg. Most people are able to get back to pretty similar function. It’s a big deal. It’s a big injury to go through. But for people who are blessed with supreme athletic ability in the first place, usually they can get back to pretty close to where they were before.”
What are the long-term risks?
“People who have torn their Achilles on one side are at higher risk for having the same thing happen on the other side. There’s something about the way an individual is built. There’s something called collagen fibers within their bodies, which is what our ligaments and tendons in our body is made up of that make it more likely that if it happened once, it’s more likely it could happen again on the other side.”
How rare are Achilles injuries? Does his age help him?
“In his age group it’s definitely not as common. These are much less common, unlike ACL tears which are much more common in young people, Achilles injuries are actually much more common in older people. So he’s pretty young to have this injury. It becomes more common for players in their 30s and 40s.
For people in their 20s, it’s relatively rare, but that works in his favor. Younger people tend to heal faster and have less muscle loss.”
Are there any advances in medicine that would help Okudah recover faster?
“There are a lot of things that are tried and there a lot of things that people will kind of throw the kitchen sink approach at. but, there’s not that’s been shown to make a big difference in that recovery time. There’s nothing out there that would help him be back playing at a high level this year. Typically it’s gonna be a season ending injury.”