For Part 3 of this featured blog, I decided to turn to a fellow netballer – who ruptured her Achilles in April 2021. I actually used to play alongside Lucy’s mum (showing my age!) and have found Lucy a great personal support when I ruptured some 7 months after her. Strangely enough, Lucy and I had both rehabbed an ACL at a similar time too, so to experience this injury almost in tandem was an unfortunate coincidence!
Lucy and I had different routes through rehab – I had surgery, Lucy did not. Lucy was striving to return to elite sport – I was not! This interview highlights the individual differences with injury experience and rehabilitation. I thank Lucy for her contribution and hope it offers the reader an insight into her personal journey with injury.
What do you feel was most challenging about the early stages of the injury?
The early stages held their own challenges with the boot! When I did my knee I was able to remove the brace to shower and sleep, but the boot had to stay on 24/7. To wash I had to carefully take it off and put every effort into keeping my foot as pointed as possible whilst my mum washed my leg, and that’s after already showering with a giant cover over the affected leg, which isn’t easy to get on and off. The boot also meant I wasn’t able to drive, yet again becoming dependant on other people to ferry me around, but for months rather than when I felt safe to emergency stop.
I too experienced the leg-washing circus! I found a bath caddy placed strategically would allow me to have a relatively normal bath!
How did you cope with the initial diagnosis and decision about surgery/not?
The initial diagnosis was obvious. I knew as soon as I’d hit the ground that I’d done my Achilles it was just a matter of how bad. I had a small slider of hope as I was able to lift my toes off the floor, but that was quickly taken away at the hospital when the calf pinch test created no movement at all. They were certain early on it was gone. A wave of frustration hit when they scanned it and discovered it was an abnormally high Achilles rupture. I thought perhaps it would have been easier if it had actually been a calf rupture and was annoyed, but in hindsight I’m sure that wouldn’t have been easy either. The decision about surgery was made for me. Achilles surgeries carry a high chance of complications and try to be avoided if possible, so when the scans revealed my two torn ends met when my foot was put into planter flexion, how the boot would keep it, conservative management was the obvious choice.
Unlike Lucy my rupture was abnormally low, and surgery was the best option as the ends of the tendon were not close in my case. My surgery involved screws into my heel to anchor the Achilles with the rupture being very low.
Did the injury impact how you felt about yourself?
I blamed myself for ages. I’d been through a rough mental patch and had struggled to attend all my S&C sessions, netball sessions and just exercise in general. I’d just started getting back into it consistently when I ruptured it so naturally I went to self-blame for the injury. It was my fault because I’d been slack. Although my consultant and S&C coach assured me “if it’s going to go, it’s going to go” it took a while to believe.
What support was important to you throughout?
As always my family were an incredible support. From washing my leg and wiping my tears, to the endless lifts. The Surrey Storm coaching team, especially my S&C coach, were a huge support. They kept me focused and supported me with every step of the rehab. One of my most important supports was my “rehab buddy Lauren”. Being stuck in rehab club again was agonising but having someone going through it with you, being there at every session and understanding what it’s like to be rehabbing made such a difference.
Describe your lowest moment through the injury and rehab process?
My lowest moment was a few weeks after the boot came off and I realised this rehab was so different to my ACL rehab. With a knee you’re always pushing it to its max, trying new things and seeing what you can do. But with an Achilles you have to be so slow and careful. One wrong move and boom it can snap again. Daily tasks took a lot longer to re-learn. Building the strength took a lot longer and the setbacks came more frequently. Everything seemed to drag and rest and patience was the only way to progress at points.
Are there lasting effects for you (physically or mentally) now you are fully rehabilitated?
Annoyingly, yes, loads of lasting effects. My Achilles still suffers with tendinopathy and now the non-injured Achilles is also suffering tendinopathy. So daily I’m walking around in some level of discomfort or pain. It’s also a mental battle every time I exercise. Is it going to snap today? Having done an ACL increases the likelihood of an Achilles rupture and now I’ve done one Achilles the other is at a greater risk. Now I’m experiencing tendinopathy it’s at an even greater risk. It just feels like a ticking time bomb. But one I’m going with because I NEED to be playing netball the sport I once LOVED so much!
If you could go back in time and tell yourself something useful when you first got injured, what might that be?
I would tell myself it’s a completely different rehab process to the knee and not to expect anything to be the same. I’d also tell myself not to read the time scales other athletes have returned in, because that’ll only depress you when you exceed double their times.
This is a really good point. In online forums, quick return from injury is often commended. I found this frustrating, and battled twice a week with my physio regarding where I was at and where I ‘should’ be.