Grabbing Research by the Achilles
Computer technology and the Internet are opening up new doors for doctors. Computerized searches of medical articles make it possible to find out which treatments are best for each problem. Reports from doctors around the world can be included.
One area of study is the treatment of the ruptured Achilles tendon. This is a common athletic injury of the tendon attached to the calf muscles in the lower leg. It can happen in any age group. There are many different ways to treat it. In fact, a computer search of reported studies counted 41 different ways to surgically repair this.
Large variations in treatment options used for Achilles tendon tears makes it impossible to show which one way is best. Just knowing that this is the current state of affairs will help doctors. They can start designing studies that will report the final outcome of each treatment. By comparing the treatment method with the final result, the best treatment options can be found.
Doctors can also compare patients' ages with the treatment given and the final result. It may be that older patients need a different treatment approach than young athletes. From the data collected so far, it seems that older patients do better without surgery after Achilles rupture. The choice of a brace that allows them to stay active seems best.
It's amazing that in today's advanced medical world, a problem as common as a ruptured Achilles tendon has no known "best" treatment. This is true for many other conditions, too. Improving research is the first step toward changing this trend. Using computers to collect data and share information is the next step.
Jason Wong, MBChB, et al. Quantitative Review of Operative and Nonoperative Management of Achilles Tendon Ruptures. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. July/August 2002. Vol. 30. No. 4. Pp. 565-575.