The acute rupture of the Achilles tendon is a protracted injury. Surgery is only the beginning of a long rehabilitation period. Therefore, the rehabilitation protocol is an integral aspect to restore the pre-injury activity level. Despite several trials available comparing different treatment regimes, there is still no consensus regarding the optimal protocol. Consequently, the aim of our study was to systematically search the evidence available and define a precise rehabilitation programme after operative repair of acute Achilles tendon rupture based on the trials with the highest level of evidence. We performed a systematic literature search in Medline, Embase and Cochrane library. We identified twelve randomized controlled trials comparing different treatment regimes after operative repair of the Achilles tendon. Five trials compared full to non weight bearing, all applying immobilization in equinus. Immediate full weight bearing led to significant higher patient satisfaction, earlier ambulation and return to pre-injury activity. Four trials compared early ankle mobilization to immobilization. All trials found mobilization to be superior as it shortens time to return to work and sports significantly. Three trials compared the combination of full weight bearing and early ankle mobilization to immobilization. This combination was most beneficial. Patients showed significantly higher satisfaction, less use of rehabilitation resources, earlier return to pre-injury activities and further demonstrated significantly increased calf muscle strength, reduced atrophy and tendon elongation. No study found an increased rerupture rate for the more progressive treatment. In conclusion, the rehabilitation protocol after Achilles tendon repair should allow immediate full weight bearing. After the second postoperative week controlled ankle mobilization by free plantar flexion and limited dorsiflexion at 0° should be applied.
Keywords: Achilles tendon rupture; Ankle mobilization; Evidence-based; Functional treatment; Immobilization; Rehabilitation; Surgical repair; Treatment protocol; Weight bearing.
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