His Achilles Heal
Sunday, June 4, 2006
NICK DASCHEL Columbian staff writer
The ordeal of recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon takes Dan Dickau to Rebound Orthopedic Physical Therapy, where five days a week he goes through a series of rehabilitation exercises.
On this day, the 27-year-old Boston Celtics guard and Vancouver resident steps onto a mini-trampoline. It causes Doug Rosario, his physical therapist, to smile.
"Now, he can barely get up in the air," Rosario said. "But I tease him, he probably couldn't get very high in the air before the injury."
Dickau shoots him a look as if to say, very funny.
But Dickau is up for the verbal abuse. He's up for anything that will get him back to basketball and ready to play what will be his fifth season in the NBA.
Rehab is Dickau's job now. Since going down this past Dec. 17 with the right foot injury, Dickau is having to learn to how to walk, jog and rebuild the muscle in his leg. He's at least two months from stepping onto a basketball court and doing meaningful skills work.
Frustrating? Absolutely, Dickau says. Humbling, too.
"But the way I look at it, I got hurt and there's nothing I can do other than to try to get better," Dickau said. "I know for a fact I'll be 100 percent before training camp."
It might be different had this been Dickau's first go-round at rehabilitating an injury. Here, he's got some experience.
Dickau broke his foot following his freshman season at the University of Washington, then again early during his sophomore season. In 2002, Dickau tore a meniscus knee ligament during his NBA rookie season with Atlanta, causing him to miss five weeks.
"With both of them, I came back better than before," Dickau said. "With the broken foot, you're curious. Am I going to run the same? Can I cut? Since I came back, I haven't had any problems with my foot. With the knee, it's like an oil change any more.
"The way I'm looking at this one, I've done this before. It's more detailed, but I'm up for the challenge."
Although Dickau was doing some light stretching exercises during the winter, the rehabilitation challenge began in mid-March, when a walking boot came off his right foot. His leg atrophied almost an inch and a half during the three months of downtime.
The centerpiece of Dickau's rehab takes place at Rebound, where he meets three days a week with Rosario at the center's Portland Rose Quarter office, and two days a week at Lacamas Swim and Sport for therapy exercises in a swimming pool.
But the process of healing also takes Dickau to a chiropractor two days per week, weekly massage therapy, regular workouts with a personal trainer at a Hazel Dell fitness club, and periodic visits to Boston to meet with Celtics medical personnel.
On this particular day, Dickau starts with a 45-minute session with a chiropractor, Dr. Justin Whitaker of Portland. Dickau has been a patient of Whitaker's for four years.
"I know what's coming," Dickau said.
What's coming in this case is active release treatment, which Dickau describes as a "very localized, high-intensity massage to break up scar tissue. You can feel the difference between the healthy muscle and the tissues bound down from the injury."
From there, Dickau heads to the Rose Quarter for Rebound, which has become a second home since taking off the walking boot.
More than two months into the process, Dickau knows the drill, walking into the office, taking off his backpack and heading straight for an exercise bike to warm up.
From there, as Rosario watches and encourages, Dickau works on several machines and contraptions geared to rehabilitate his Achilles tendon. Rosario said the goal of every exercise is to help with motion, strength and function.
Going all out isn't the goal. Rosario said it's more important to do an exercise at, say 25 percent capacity, and do it properly, rather than 50 or 75 percent and have haphazard form.
This part is Dickau's greatest challenge during rehab.
"Always wanting to do more is probably the hardest thing for me," Dickau said. "Just like this past week, I jogged for a three-minute span, and myself, I felt great. I could have gone on for twice that, maybe 10 minutes. But that was the prescribed course, and you definitely want to go in stages."
Most of the exercises are simple, but given Dickau's injury, difficult at times. He tries to gain balance and strength while standing a BAPS board (biomechanical ankle platform system) with his right leg. Later, attached to a bungee cord, Dickau sometimes wobbles on his injured leg while trying to stride out.
Dickau finishes with 15 minutes of treadmill work, the bulk at 4 miles per hour at an incline. Toward the end, Rosario notices Dickau is limping, and says it's due to fatigue.
"It takes thousands and thousands of repetitions to get it right," Rosario said. "You can get discouraged pretty easily.
For now, most of the running and athletic exercises are reserved for the two days Rosario works with Dickau at the Lacamas pool, because water cuts down on resistance.
"If he can do it in the pool at a high level, we know he can transfer that one the court," Rosario said.
As weeks pass, most of the rehab exercises stay the same, but they're done with higher intensity. By summer's end, it's expected Dickau will be ready to resume life as a professional athlete.
"When he runs, you shouldn't be able to tell if he had right foot or left foot surgery," Rosario said.
Or that Dickau had surgery at all.
"I've been through a couple rehabs, and they turned out great," he said. "I haven't had any doubts in my mind that I'll be 100 percent."
Did you know?
The Achilles is the longest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. The Achilles tendon assists a person in walking by helping to raise the heel off the ground.
Dan Dickau file
Local tie: Lives in Vancouver, Prairie High School graduate.
NBA tie: 6-foot point guard, plays for Boston Celtics; signed a three-year contract with the team in October, 2005.
Career: All-American during his senior season at Gonzaga. Selected with the 28th pick of the 2002 NBA draft by Sacramento, and immediately traded to Atlanta. Has spent time on six NBA rosters, including Portland in 2004.
Best season: In 2004-05, Dickau started 46 games for New Orleans, where he averaged 13.2 points and 4.9 assists per game.
Last season: Tore his Achilles tendon on Dec. 17 in a game against Chicago, ending his season.