Olympics News: Triathlete Alistair Brownlee Undergoes Ankle Surgery
Posted by Jenn F. on Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
In the UK, you don’t have “ankle injuries”; you have “ankle niggles.” Such is the case for Olympic Triathlete Alistair Brownlee. “My left ankle has been giving me bother since 2013, with a range of different niggles,” the gold medalist told the press at the end of August. “Getting it sorted gives me the best chance of being 100% for next season.”1http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/athletics/34055367 All British eyes were on the 27-year-old, who is expected to compete in Rio for 2016. On August 25th, he underwent ankle surgery as a last resort to end ligament and tendon troubles that have dogged him for years.
What Happened to Alistair Brownlee?
The trouble with his ankle began in 2012 when he tore his Achilles tendon six months prior to the Olympics.2http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/triathlon/17141223 He went through a quick, active rehabilitation regimen that involved wearing a boot, swimming daily, and riding a stationary bike until he could resume light running.
At The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NY, we treat partial tears of the Achilles tendon with rest, cold therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and electrotherapies that reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Once the acute injury stage has passed, we direct attention to boosting calf strength and slowly resuming athletic training.
After winning the Olympic triathlon, Brownlee dealt with an injured knee — which, in turn, aggravated three separate issues in the ankle. “I joke that my ankle has had nine lives this year,” he told The Guardian.3http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/sep/09/alistair-brownlee-world-triathlon Though he was sore, he persisted and continued to compete on it — using physio-therapy, ice, and vitamin supplements to get by.
Brownlee’s left ankle has been an undeniable issue this season. This spring, he missed the World Triathlon Series races in Abu Dhabi, Auckland, and the Gold Coast due to “ankle ligament injury.”4http://britishtriathlon.org/news/auckland_preview_5445 The August 2nd Olympic test event in Rio exacerbated the injury and made surgery a foregone conclusion.5http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-3210582/Alistair-Brownlee-set-miss-World-Series-grand-final-undergoing-ankle-surgery.html This means he’ll miss September’s WTS Grand Final in Chicago, which is typically necessary to qualify for the Olympics; but there is still one more chance for the European champion to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics at a final assessment race in 2016.
Treating Ligament & Tendon “Niggles” With Ankle Surgery
Research indicates that isolated ankle injuries can be successfully treated with immobilization and that patients typically return to the sport quicker (not to mention with fewer complications) than those treated surgically.6http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1234170-overview However, in Brownlee’s case, where multiple ligaments and tendons are affected, there is still a place for surgery. One review of literature concluded that “Broström lateral-ligament repair should be considered the first choice for persistent ankle instability refractory to a functional ankle-rehabilitation protocol.”7http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164377/
Another study of double lateral ligament tears found that young athletes only had 58% successful results with immobilization, compared to 88.9% success with surgical repair; the average patient stayed in the hospital for a little over a week and 22% of those treated surgically suffered a complication like necrosis of the skin or tingling in the toes.8http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/804489
A lengthy rehab typically follows surgical repair of the ankle, with a total recovery time ranging between six and twelve months.9http://www.stoneclinic.com/brostrom-procedure-rehab Brownlee is a self-described “Type A” personality with one heck of a competitive streak, so we’re hoping he can find the patience to take a slow, cautious recovery that finds him fully healed by next summer.
Ankle Treatment in NYC
The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC is no stranger to treating Olympic athletes. Our respected, board-certified podiatrists are on the Medical Advisory Committee for the United States Olympic Marathon Trials. We diagnose and treat acute injuries, help top-level athletes safely continue their training and skill building (despite injury), and offer strategies to prevent future injuries. Our centers in Manhattan and Westchester, NY offer the latest technology, including extracorporeal shockwave therapy and platelet rich plasma injections, to help Olympians get back to their sports as quickly and efficiently as possible. Contact us to learn more.
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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.