The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscles in the leg to the heel bone. It is the largest yet most exposed tendon in the body. An Achilles tendon rupture injury is when the tendon fibres tear, causing symptoms of pain and loss of function. A rupture can be either partial or complete and treatment may involve surgery. Achilles tendon rupture is most common in weekend athletes trying to train too hard and is least common in well-trained professional athletes. The injury is more common in men than in women and the frequency of rupture increases over the age of 30 years.
An Achilles tendon injury might be caused by several factors. Overuse. Stepping up your level of physical activity too quickly. Wearing high heels, which increases the stress on the tendon. Problems with the feet, an Achilles tendon injury can result from flat feet, also known as fallen arches or overpronation. In this condition, the impact of a step causes the arch of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons. Muscles or tendons in the leg that are too tight. Achilles tendon injuries are common in people who participate in the following sports. Running. Gymnastics. Dance. Football. Baseball. Softball. Basketball. Tennis. Volleyball. You are more likely to tear an Achilles tendon when you start moving suddenly. For instance, a sprinter might get one at the start of a race. The abrupt tensing of the muscle can be too much for the tendon to handle. Men older than age 30 are particularly prone to Achilles tendon injuries.
The most common initial symptom of Achilles tendon rupture is a sudden snap at the back of the heels with intense pain. Immediately after the rupture, the majority of individuals will have difficult walking. Some individuals may have had previous complains of calf or heel pain, suggesting prior tendon inflammation or irritation. Immediately after an Achilles tendon rupture, most individuals will develop a limp. In addition, when the ankle is moved, the patient will complain of pain. In all cases, the affected ankle will have no strength. Once the Achilles tendon is ruptured, the individual will not be able to run, climb up the stairs, or stand on his toes. The ruptured Achilles tendon prevents the power from the calf muscles to move the heel. Whenever the diagnosis is missed, the recovery is often prolonged. Bruising and swelling around the calf and ankle occur. Achilles tendon rupture is frequent in elderly individuals who have a sedentary lifestyle and suddenly become active. In these individuals, the tendon is not strong and the muscles are deconditioned, making recovery more difficult. Achilles tendon rupture has been reported after injection of corticosteroids around the heel bone or attachment of the tendon. The fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin [Cipro]) is also known to cause Achilles tendon weakness and rupture, especially in young children. Some individuals have had a prior tendon rupture that was managed conservatively. In such cases, recurrence of rupture is very high.
During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect your lower leg for tenderness and swelling. In many cases, doctors can feel a gap in your tendon if a complete rupture has occurred. The doctor may also ask you to kneel on a chair or lie on your stomach with your feet hanging over the end of the exam table. He or she may then squeeze your calf muscle to see if your foot will automatically flex. If it doesn't, you probably have ruptured your Achilles tendon. If there's a question about the extent of your Achilles tendon injury, whether it's completely or only partially ruptured, your doctor may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This painless procedure uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create a computerized image of the tissues of your body.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are two treatment options available which are non-operative and operative. Non-operative treatment involves the use initially of a below-knee plaster with the foot held fully bent downwards. This usually stays in place for 2 weeks then is changed for a brace(this is a boot from the knee down to the toes with Velcro straps) which should be worn day and night. The brace will be regularly altered to allow the foot to come up to a more neutral position. The brace will be on for a further 6 weeks. After the 8 weeks you will be referred for physiotherapy to regain movement and calf strength but will probably need to wear the brace during the day for a further 4 weeks. Non-operative treatment avoids the risks of surgery but the risk of the tendon re-rupturing, which normally occurs within 3 months of discarding the brace, is 10%.
There are a variety of ways to repair an Achilles tendon rupture. The most common method is an open repair. This starts with an incision made on the back of the lower leg starting just above the heel bone. After the surgeon finds the two ends of the ruptured tendon, these ends are sewn together with sutures. The incision is then closed. Another repair method makes a small incision on the back of the lower leg at the site of the rupture. A series of needles with sutures attached is passed through the skin and Achilles tendon and then brought out through the small incision. The sutures are then tied together. The best surgical technique for your Achilles rupture will be determined by your orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon.
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or rupture, the following tips are recommended. Avoid activities that place an enormous stress on the heel (for example, uphill running or excessive jumping). Stop all activity if there is pain at the back of the heel. If pain resumes with one particular exercise, another exercise should be selected. Wear proper shoes. Gradually strengthen calf muscles with sit-ups if prior episodes of Achilles tendonitis have occurred. Always warm up with stretching exercises before any activity. Avoid high-impact sports if prior episodes of Achilles tendon injury.