Thursday, April 18

The FSU team surgeon was even surprised by the quick return of Achilles from Cam Akers

After working closely with Cam Akers for three years in Tallahassee, Dr. Bill Thompson wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear that the former Florida State star was ahead of the game with his Achilles tendon rehabilitation.

However, five and a half months?

Not even the head orthopedic surgeon of the Florida State football team would have predicted it.

“He was like everyone,” Thompson said. “I was amazed when I saw that he was back.”

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Akers, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon during training camp in July, was originally thought to be out for the season.

It wasn’t that long ago that Achilles injuries ended the careers of professional athletes. In recent years, many have needed a year or more to return.

But Akers returned to the Los Angeles Rams roster in December and returned to action this month. In last week’s wild-card playoff win against the Arizona Cardinals, Akers carried the ball 17 times for 55 yards and also caught a 40-yard pass.

This afternoon, he will race against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Divisional Round playoff (3 pm ET, NBC).

“If anyone can do it, I’m not surprised it’s Cam,” Thompson said. “He’s super talented, but he’s also very tough and determined. And he’s a great healer. When he had injuries here at Florida State, he always seemed to heal so fast.”

“He’s rehabbed a lot. So he’s got everything going for him. Obviously he’s got a great medical team, but he’s got all the qualities you need to heal well after injuries.”

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Of course, recovering quickly from a sprained ankle is one thing. Playing in the NFL less than six months after tearing an Achilles tendon is unprecedented.

NBA superstar Kevin Durant, for example, missed about 18 months after sustaining an Achilles tendon injury during the 2019 NBA Finals.

“It takes a special guy to be able to come back that fast,” Thompson said. “I know he will come back safe and sound because his doctors wouldn’t let him otherwise. That means everything has gone very, very well.”

“Obviously he did every step along the way perfectly to be able to play this season.”

Thompson, who also treats patients at the Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic, said there have been some advances in Achilles tendon treatment in recent years, and that has certainly helped Akers’ progress.

In years past, Thompson said, surgeons would take both ends of a ruptured tendon and essentially reattach them. Now, they also suture “anchors” to the bone to help support the tendon.

That allows patients to start moving faster, and Thompson said tendons heal better when they’re not left immobile for an extended period of time.

“We don’t fully understand that,” Thompson said. “But we do know that if we get movement in a tendon, as long as the repair remains intact, the tendon tends to heal better.”

Even so, there are many factors that hinder the recovery of the Achilles tendon.

Thompson said it’s sometimes hard for the skin to heal on that part of the foot. Next, the tendon must become secure enough to handle strength training. So if there are no hiccups there, that can lead to running. So an elite athlete like Akers will see if he can handle the sprints.

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“All of those things take so long, which is why you’ll see some athletes take a year or two to come back,” Thompson said. “Coming back from an Achilles in five months…just everything was absolutely perfect from the start.”

If it was going to happen, Thompson was not surprised that it did.

In fact, he trained under Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who handled Akers’ treatment as the Rams’ orthopedic surgeon. And he lists Akers as one of his favorite athletes to work with, and among his most conscientious patients, during his years at FSU.

“He was one of those players that you love to take care of,” Thompson said. “You told him what to do, and he did it. And he worked hard at it. It’s just hard.”

“I always supported my Florida State guys, but I really supported him. Because a lot of times with an Achilles, you think, ‘Man, he’s going to be out for a whole year.’ And there are so many things that can happen to these professionals in a year. And I really want it to be successful.”

Hard work is not the only factor in a patient’s quick recovery.

Thompson said some people just heal faster; included Akers and former Seminole Derwin James in that category.

For some reason, his skin, tendons, and ligaments seemed to heal faster than even some other elite athletes. The fact that each of them possessed a tremendous work ethic took things to another level.

“When you add all those things together, you have a guy like Cam,” Thompson said. “And there you have it. It sure is impressive.”

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