Background: The optimal rehabilitation protocol after surgical repair of an Achilles tendon rupture has not been well defined. The objective of this randomized study was to compare the effect of early weight-bearing with that of non-weight-bearing on early postoperative recovery following repair of an acutely ruptured Achilles tendon.
Methods: Between October 2003 and May 2006, 110 patients with a surgically repaired Achilles tendon rupture were enrolled from one of two major trauma-care tertiary hospitals. All patients were non-weight-bearing for the first two weeks postoperatively. At the two-week postoperative visit, patients were randomized to either weight-bearing or non-weight-bearing for an additional four weeks. Compliance was measured with a pressure sensor in the fixed-hinge ankle-foot orthosis given to each patient. Follow-up assessments were performed at six weeks, three months, and six months postoperatively. The primary outcome was health-related quality of life assessed with use of the RAND 36-Item Health Survey (RAND-36). Secondary outcomes were activity level, calf strength, ankle range of motion, return to sports and work, and complications.
Results: Ninety-eight patients (89%) completed the six-month follow-up. At six weeks, the weight-bearing group had significantly better scores than the non-weight-bearing group in the RAND-36 domains of physical functioning, social functioning, role-emotional, and vitality scores (p < 0.05). Patients in the weight-bearing group also reported fewer limitations of daily activities at six weeks postoperatively (p < 0.001). At six months, no significant differences between the groups were seen in any outcome, although both groups had poor endurance of the calf musculature. No rerupture occurred in either group.
Conclusions: Early weight-bearing after surgical repair of an acute Achilles tendon rupture improves health-related quality of life in the early postoperative period and has no detrimental effect on recovery.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.