Defining Components of Early Functional Rehabilitation for Acute Achilles Tendon Rupture: A Systematic Review

Jennifer A Zellers, Marianne Christensen, Inge Lunding Kjær, Michael Skovdal Rathleff, Karin Grävare Silbernagel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Early functional rehabilitation is frequently discussed in treating Achilles tendon rupture. A consistent definition of what constitutes early functional rehabilitation has not been established across the literature, despite studies supporting its efficacy. A standardized definition would be helpful to pool data across studies, allow for between-study comparisons, and ultimately work toward developing clinical guidelines.

Purpose: To define early functional rehabilitation (including when it is initiated and what it entails) when used to treat Achilles tendon rupture and to identify outcome measures for evaluating the effect of treatment.

Study Design: Systematic review; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, PEDro, CINAHL, and Cochrane databases were searched for relevant studies. Eligibility criteria for selecting studies consisted of randomized controlled trials, cohort studies, and case series (≥10 participants) including weightbearing or exercise-based interventions within 8 weeks after Achilles tendon rupture.

Results: A total of 174 studies published between 1979 and 2018 were included. Studies were rated a median (interquartile range [IQR]) of 17 (15-20) on the Downs & Black checklist and included 9098 participants. Early functional rehabilitation incorporated weightbearing (95%), range of motion (73%), and isometric/strengthening exercises (50%). Weightbearing was initiated within the first week, whereas exercise (eg, ankle range of motion, strengthening, whole-body conditioning) was initiated in the second week. Initiation of exercises varied based on whether treatment was nonsurgical (mean, 3.0 weeks; IQR, 2.0-4.0 weeks) or simple (mean, 2.0 weeks; IQR, 0.0-2.3 weeks) or augmented surgical repair (mean, 0.5 weeks; IQR, 0.0-2.8 weeks) (P = .017). Functional outcomes including ankle range of motion (n = 84) and strength (n = 76) were reported in 130 studies. Other outcome domains included patient-reported outcomes (n = 89), survey-based functional outcomes (n = 50), and tendon properties (n = 53).

Conclusion: Early functional rehabilitation includes weightbearing and a variety of exercise-based interventions initiated within the first 2 weeks after acute Achilles tendon rupture/repair. Because early functional rehabilitation has lacked a standardized definition, interventions and outcome measures are highly variable, and pooling data across studies should be done with attention paid to what was included in the intervention and how treatment was assessed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2325967119884071
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Achilles
  • ankle
  • mobilization
  • outcomes
  • weightbearing


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