Giving plaster casts the boot …
Rupture of the Achilles tendon is a common injury in sportsmen and women. Raquet sports are a common cause but other ‘impact’ sports like athletics or football can overload the tendon - David Beckham was a recent high-profile victim. However, this injury can happen to anyone, even if they never do any sport at all and some of the cases we have seen have been caused just by walking upstairs!
Traditionally, people with a rupture of the Achilles tendon were treated in a plaster cast from the knee to the toes and were unable to put weight through their foot for up to three months. This allows the tendon to heal, but results in weakness of the muscles in the calf and stiffness in the joints around the ankle. Until recently, the average return to sporting activity was nine months and for many professional sports people it was a career-ending injury.
The research team here in the Health Sciences Division at Warwick Medical School has investigated different forms of rehabilitation that allow patients to walk immediately after their injury. We have been using walking-boots - like the ‘moon-boot’ that Wayne Rooney famously wore before the World Cup. These have allowed patients to return to their normal activities earlier than before and may even improve the healing of the tendon.
The research is still ongoing, but we are very encouraged by the results of our pilot at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire where patients are showing quicker recovery times using these boots. We are currently investigating different types of walking-boot, to see which one allows the patients to return to normal activities sooner. One looks very much like a walking boot but the other looks quite futuristic with minimal support – yet it is incredibly effective in assisting healing whilst allowing a good measure of protected movement too.
We hope that this research will allow patients to return to work and leisure activities even more quickly, with the least chance of further injury to the tendon. Who knows, we could see the traditional plaster cast given the boot … well, it worked for David Beckham!