Even FSU team surgeon 'amazed' by Akers' speedy Achilles recovery
After working closely with Cam Akers for three years in Tallahassee, Dr. Bill Thompson was not the least bit surprised to hear the former Florida State star was ahead of schedule with his Achilles rehab.
Five-and-a-half months though?
Not even the Florida State football team's head orthopedic surgeon would have predicted that.
"I was like everybody," Thompson said. "I was amazed when I saw that he was back."
Akers, who went down with a torn Achilles tendon during training camp in July, was originally thought to be lost for the season.
It wasn't all that long ago that Achilles injuries were career-enders for professional athletes. In recent years, many have needed a year or more to come back.
But Akers returned to the Los Angeles Rams roster in December and was back in 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'll be running against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Divisional Round playoff (3 p.m. ET, NBC).
"If anybody can do it, it doesn't surprise me that 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 really fast.
"He rehabbed hard. So he has everything going for him. Obviously, he has a great medical team, but he just has all the qualities that it takes to heal well after injuries."
Of course, coming back quickly from a sprained ankle is one thing. Playing in the NFL less than six months after tearing an Achilles is unprecedented.
NBA superstar Kevin Durant, for example, missed about 18 months after sustaining an Achilles injury during the 2019 NBA Finals.
"It takes a special guy to be able to come back that fast," Thompson said. "I know that he's coming back safely because his doctors wouldn't let him otherwise. So that means everything has gone really, really well.
"He obviously did every step along the way perfectly to get to play this season."
Thompson, who also treats patients at Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic, said there have been some advancements in Achilles treatment in recent years, and that undoubtedly aided Akers' progress.
In years past, Thompson said, surgeons would take both ends of a ruptured tendon and essentially stitch them back together. Now, they also suture "anchors" to the bone to help support the tendon.
That allows patients to start moving quicker, and Thompson said tendons heal better when they aren't left immobile for a long period of time.
"We don't quite understand that completely," Thompson said. "But we do know that if we get motion in a tendon, as long as the repair stays in tact, the tendon tends to heal better."
Even still, there are many factors that make Achilles recovery tricky.
Thompson said it's sometimes difficult for the skin to heal in that part of the foot. Then the tendon has to become secure enough to handle strength training. Then if there are no setbacks there, that can lead to running. Then an elite athlete like Akers will see if it can handle sprinting.
"All those things take so long, which is why you'll see some athletes take a year or two to come back," Thompson said. "To come back from an Achilles in five months ... just everything went absolutely perfect from the get-go."
If it was going to happen, Thompson wasn't surprised that this was the case.
He actually 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 just 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. He's just tough.
"I always root for my Florida State guys, but I was really rooting for 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 pros in a year. And I really want him to succeed. "
Hard work isn't the only factor in a patient's quick recovery.
Thompson said some people simply heal quicker; he listed Akers and former Seminole Derwin James in that category.
For whatever reason, their skin and tendons and ligaments seemed to heal faster than even some other elite athletes. The fact that they each possess a tremendous work ethic then took things to another level.
"When you add all those things together, you've got a guy like Cam," Thompson said. "And there you go. It's impressive for sure."