Taking the Next Step with Achilles Tendon Ruptures


By Jen A. Miller

Rupturing an Achilles tendon happenssuddenly without forewarning: step backand then move forward too quickly, andany athlete, from theweekend warriorto the well-paid pro, can tear the tendonthat connects the calf to the heel.

This is where KARIN GRÄVARESILBERNAGEL, PT, ATC, PhD, focuses her work. It’s becoming a morecommon traumatic injury. It has takenout major athletes like Ryan Howardof the Philadelphia Phillies and Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers.

Dr. Silbernagel’s work could change how Achilles tendon ruptures are treated. Right now in the U.S., about 90 percent of patients who rupture their Achillestendons are treated with surgery. But in a  study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and funded by the Swedish National Center for Research in Sports, Dr. Silbernagel found that ruptured tendon surgeries don’t really have better outcomes than ruptures that are treated nonsurgically along with early-loading, which is putting= weight on the leg and thus the tendon.

Dr. Silbernagel, who joined USciences two years ago, is taking the next step with that research and studying exactly when to reload the leg after an Achilles tendon rupture, and with how much weight, for optimal recovery.

“You don’t just tell someone to take a little bit of an antibiotic,” she said. “The dosage is adjusted to the person. It’s really important that we do the same with exercise.”

In another American Journal of Sports Medicine study, she reported on how minimizing tendon elongation after injury can help patients better recover to their pre-injury levels of activity.

She is also collaborating with CAROL MARITZ, EdD, PT, GCS, an associate professor of physical therapy and geriatric clinical specialist at USciences. Together, through a grant from the Genesis Center for Aging and Research, they’re looking at the relationship between calf muscle strength and falls. “There seems to be a strong correlation in how weak your calf muscle is and risks factors for falls,” she said, so she’s studying heelrise ability and calf strength in seniors. Dr. Silbernagel has also just been named an associate editor for the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, which is one of the most important journals for physical therapists in her field.

Dr. Silbernagel has been a practicing physical therapist for over 20 years, and she came to USciences in part because the University would allow her pursue her twin passions.

“I really do want to teach and continue to conduct research,” she said, adding that the University has been very welcoming of her collaborations with researchers around the world, including those in Sweden and New Zealand.


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