A Prospective Randomized Trial Comparing Surgical and Nonsurgical Treatments of Acute Achilles Tendon Ruptures

Am J Sports Med. 2016 Sep;44(9):2406-14. doi: 10.1177/0363546516651060. Epub 2016 Jun 15.


Background: The optimal treatment of acute Achilles tendon ruptures for active patients is under debate.

Purpose: To compare clinical outcomes and calf muscle strength recovery after the nonsurgical treatment and open surgical repair of acute Achilles tendon ruptures with identical accelerated rehabilitation programs.

Study design: Randomized controlled trial; Level of evidence, 1.

Methods: From 2009 to 2013, a total of 60 patients with an acute Achilles tendon rupture were randomized to surgery or nonsurgical treatment. Nonsurgical treatment included first a week of cast immobilization, followed by a functional orthosis for 6 weeks, allowing full weightbearing after week 1 and active plantar flexion after week 5. Surgery was simple end-to-end open repair, and postoperative treatment was identical to nonsurgical treatment. Outcome measures included the Leppilahti Achilles tendon performance score, isokinetic calf muscle strength, and RAND 36-Item Health Survey at 18-month follow-up.

Results: At 18-month follow-up, the mean Leppilahti score was 79.5 and 75.7 for the surgically and nonsurgically treated groups, respectively (mean difference, 3.8; 95% CI, -1.9 to 9.5; P = .19). Angle-specific peak torque results of affected legs showed that surgery resulted in faster and better recovery of calf muscle strength over the entire range of motion of the ankle joint: at 6 months, the difference varied from 16% to 24% (P = .016), favoring the surgically treated group, whereas at 18 months, surgically treated patients had 10% to 18% greater strength results (P = .037). At 18 months, a 14% difference in the peak torque of the affected leg favored the surgical group versus the nonsurgical group (mean peak torque, 110.3 vs 96.5 N·m, respectively; mean difference, 13.6 N·m; 95% CI, 2.0-25.1 N·m; P = .022). The RAND 36-Item Health Survey indicated better results in the domains of physical functioning (P = .006) and bodily pain (P = .037) for surgically treated patients.

Conclusion: Surgical and nonsurgical treatments of acute Achilles tendon ruptures have similar results in terms of the Achilles tendon performance score, but surgery restores calf muscle strength earlier over the entire range of motion of the ankle joint, with a 10% to 18% strength difference favoring surgery at 18 months. Surgery may also result in better health-related quality of life in the domains of physical functioning and bodily pain compared with nonsurgical treatment.

Registration: NCT02012803 (ClinicalTrials.gov).

Keywords: Achilles tendon rupture; accelerated rehabilitation protocol; calf muscle strength; nonoperative treatment; operative treatment; quality of life.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Achilles Tendon / injuries*
  • Achilles Tendon / surgery
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rupture / etiology
  • Rupture / rehabilitation
  • Rupture / surgery
  • Rupture / therapy*
  • Tendon Injuries / etiology
  • Tendon Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Tendon Injuries / surgery
  • Tendon Injuries / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02012803