49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

June 22, 2013
49ers' three Achilles' tears far above league average


For the blog-only readers, here's a story that ran in today's Bee about the recent innovations regarding Achilles' heel injuries that are allowing elite athletes like Michael Crabtree and Kobe Bryant to come back sooner and stronger than they would have several years ago. The injury seems to be following in the path of ACL tears, which used to be career-enders but which now can be overcome.

One of the doctors I interviewed was Robert Anderson, who is one of the Carolina Panthers team physicians and the NFL's expert on foot and ankle injuries. Anderson operated on Crabtree's broken left foot prior to the 2009 draft. Some of the things Anderson said that didn't make it into the story:

* The NFL has been averaging between six and eight Achilles' tears a year. The 49ers have had three in the last seven months -- Kendall Hunter, Crabtree and rookie fullback Alex Debniak, who tore his Achilles' this month.

* Most Achilles' injuries occur before the regular season begins, as was the case with Crabtree (May) and Debniak (June). There was a rash of Achilles' tears in 2011. Anderson suspects it was related to the lockout and the fact that a lot of players hadn't been regularly training prior to the start of training camp that year.

* I asked Anderson about Crabtree, who has suffered a broken foot in both 2009 and 2011 (both injuries were to the left foot) and now the right Achilles' tear. He chalked it up to bad luck. However, he noted that a player who does a lot of decelerating -- like a wide receiver -- will put more stress on the Achilles' than another player. He also said receivers and other skill positions might take longer to return to form than linemen. And he said that one of the reasons why Achilles' tendons tear in the first place is a genetic weakness. So someone who tears the tendon one time has a higher risk of another tear.

Finally, Achilles' injuries are most common among people like, well, like you -- men who are between the age of 35 and 50. The tendon starts deteriorating after age 25, and men who try to maintain an active lifestyle -- running, playing basketball, jumping rope with your nieces -- often suffer the consequences. Stretching, exercising regularly, warming up and cooling down properly and drinking plenty of water will help.

The bad news is that you probably won't get the same degree of care -- condensed platelets, low-gravity treadmills, daily pool sessions with a trainer -- Crabtree and Kobe Bryant will get. The good news is that many Achilles' tears can heal without surgery. You'll be back clanking three-pointers off the front of the rim in no time.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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