NAME: Vinny Testaverde
TEAM: New York Jets
INJURY: Ruptured Achilles Tendon
HOW IT HAPPENED
Following a play in the first game of the season, Testaverde suddenly fell to the ground. He wasn't tackled or tripped on the play. He lay in obvious pain, doubled over and cradling his left ankle; he was later diagnosed with a ruptured Achilles tendon. The injury had happened when he quickly changed direction. Testaverde left the field using one leg and the help of two teammates. He will be out for the season.
In the best season of his 12-year career, Testaverde passed for 3,256 yards and 29 touchdowns, while throwing just seven interceptions. A 13-year NFL veteran, he ranks 20th on the NFL's list of passing leaders. Following his rookie year, he started at least 10 games in 11 consecutive seasons. Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy in 1986 while attending the University of Miami and was named to numerous all-rookie teams following the 1987 season.
WHAT'S INVOLVED IN A RUPTURED ACHILLES?
The Achilles tendon, a thick tendon that attaches a muscle in the calf to the heel, gives a person the ability to rise onto the toes and to point the foot. It is used in jumping and to thrust off in running and helps a person get movement and strength into the push-off motion. A rupture of the tendon is most often caused by trauma -- possibly the result of being hit or kicked in the back of the leg. The rupture can also be caused by a very forceful push-off. This explains the number of non-contact Achilles tendon tears. By suddenly tightening the leg and forcefully contracting the muscle, the tendon becomes overly stressed and can tear.
The rupture is easy to diagnose. Patients often describe it as an excruciating pain -- as if they'd hit by a baseball bat or shot in the back of the leg. Usually, there is obvious swelling. A patient with a ruptured Achilles will not be able to stand on his or her toes.
A ruptured Achilles can be treated with surgery or by putting the patient in a cast. With surgery, doctors open up the area and reconnect the tendon. Alternatively, the patient is put in an all-leg cast, with the knee bent and the ankle bent down; the tendon eventually reattaches itself. Both treatments are very successful. For athletes, surgery is more common because it has allows them to recover faster. Recovery takes longer with the cast, and the person will have less strength in the affected leg. This treatment is often used for older or less active individuals.
Although there is no way to completely eliminate the chance of rupturing the Achilles tendon, it is possible to lessen the risk by doing stretching and flexibility exercises to maintain the elasticity of the tendon, and by doing strengthening exercises (such as toe rises) to strengthen the calf muscle.
For an athlete, the recovery period usually lasts 6-12 months. The exact timetable depends on the individual, the severity of the tear, and the sport the athlete plays. Testaverde will miss the entire season, begin rehab in the spring, and should be ready for camp in the summer.
Testaverde should regain at least 90% of his strength and elasticity in the area. This will not affect his ability to pass or hand off but may hinder his mobility.