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Alex Trebek's ruptured Achilles: what, how and why?

Pity the hapless game show host, Alex Trebek. Like any self-respecting guy, he couldn't resist the urge to chase a burglar who had stolen cash, a bracelet and other items from his San Francisco hotel room last week. But – ouch! – he snapped his Achilles tendon in the attempt.

Mr. Trebek told reporters that he also injured his other leg while falling during the chase. He was on crutches later that day, while serving as host of the National Geographic World Championship at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

The Achilles tendon, at roughly 15 cm long, is the largest and strongest tendon in the human body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Ruptures occur mainly from overuse in recreational athletes, but age-related degeneration also factors in.

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The group most likely to suffer this injury is 30- to 49-year-olds, with 8.3 ruptures per 100,000. Age-related degeneration was likely a key factor in Mr. Trebek's incident; the Jeopardy! host is 71.

Another important risk factor is exercising in inappropriate footwear, which likely also played a role in Mr. Trebek's unplanned workout.

Partial tears can be treated nonsurgically; complete tears are generally repaired surgically. If the gap between the two ends is short, they can simply be stitched together.

Otherwise, additional tendon (either from the patient's body or from a tissue bank) is used to graft the two ends together. Rehabilitation takes several months, and the risk of re-rupture after surgery is between 1.7 and 10 per cent.

Mr. Trebek is expected to be in a cast for six weeks.

Alex Hutchinson, Associated Press

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About the Author
Jockology columnist

Alex Hutchinson writes about the science of fitness and exercise. A former national-team distance runner and postdoctoral physicist, he is the author of Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise. He is also a senior editor at Canadian Running magazine and a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics. More

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