Patient Stories

Craig's Achilles Tear Rehab

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He’s not a professional athlete. But that didn’t stop our team from treating him like one.

If you need a sub for softball, call Craig. A lifelong athlete and former personal trainer, sports have always been a part of Craig’s life. As a student, he played football, basketball and ran track; he’s partial to golf and skiing now. But really, he doesn’t discern – almost any physical activity will do.

Yet, as for most athletes, injury is part of his past and a constant possibility for the future. None threatened his everyday more than an Achilles tear in 2012.

Craig was playing in his usual basketball summer league. On this particular July day, the game was not going well. Craig’s team, despite being defending champs, was getting blown out. It was about to get worse. His Achilles was sore starting the game and in the last two minutes, Craig cut toward the basket and the damage was done.

An Achilles tear can be severe; the tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel bones and, when torn, can affect your mobility. It’s closely related to running speed and power, which can be especially harmful for an athlete with a competitive drive.

Craig is one such competitor. But as someone with experience, personal and professional, with sports and sports medicine, he was committed to treating it right. After the game, one of Craig’s neighbors, a rehab specialist, stopped by the house and confirmed his diagnosis: It was an Achilles tear and he would need an MRI. His friend recommended Anish R. Kadakia, MD, an orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Kadakia presented Craig with the standard surgical and non-surgical options. While surgery would require more work from Craig, it would also be his best shot at full function. The surgery was set for a couple weeks later, after which Craig began a personalized rehab plan, participating in a study led by Dr. Kadakia on how post-op protocol impacts when and to what degree flexibility and functionality return. The research, specifically on the evaluation of operative versus non-operative management of Achilles tendon ruptures using computerized adaptive testing (CAT), was one of a series of studies Dr. Kadakia has led comparing the outcomes of surgical and nonsurgical treatments for foot and ankle injuries.

Craig is an athlete – always has been, always will be. There have been injuries along the way (ankle, shoulder) that deterred him from a college career, but sports remain an integral part of his life. 

It’s a passion shared by his family as well. His wife ran track professionally and enjoys her cross-fit. His three daughters are all over the athletic board: ballet, track, volleyball. “For me, being fully functional – physically being able to do whatever I want to do – is very important,” Craig explained. “Because I am active, I have kids that are active, and I want to be able to continue to do stuff with them.”

Dr. Kadakia understood completely. From the moment Craig arrived at the Northwestern Medicine Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care, the team helped him set realistic benchmarks, taking into account his goals as an athlete and his knowledge as a personal trainer, answering questions whenever he had them.

“He was able to relate to me,” Craig said. “He understood what I wanted to do, post-op, in terms of still being able to be active.”

But the Northwestern Medicine team also made sure he knew what was at stake if he went too fast. His enthusiasm was obvious, and Dr. Kadakia cautioned him not to over do it. But Craig's commitment to a speedy recovery was matched by his commitment to preventing a relapse, and he followed Dr. Kadakia’s plan closely.

By September, Craig was walking again, by March, running. A little under a year since the tear, he was back on the basketball court in June. In his first game back, he was hesitant, but it wasn’t long until he was back to playing with confidence. Thanks to his rehab, he knew he was strong, knew he could cut to the basket just like before.

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