A tendon is a band of tissue that connects a muscle to a bone. The Achilles tendon runs down the back of the lower leg and connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. Also called the ?heel cord,? the Achilles tendon facilitates walking by helping to raise the heel off the ground. The Achilles tendon is at the back of the heel. It can be ruptured by sudden force on the foot or ankle. If your Achilles tendon is ruptured you will be unable to stand on tiptoe, and will have a flat-footed walk. It is important to diagnose and treat this injury as soon as possible, to help promote healing. Treatment involves wearing a plaster cast or brace (orthosis) for several weeks, and possibly having an operation.
There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of an Achilles tendon rupture, which include the following. You?re most likely to rupture your Achilles tendon during sports that involve bursts of jumping, pivoting and running, such as football or tennis. Your Achilles tendon becomes less flexible and less able to absorb repeated stresses, for example of running, as you get older. Small tears can develop in the fibres of the tendon and it may eventually completely tear. There is a very small risk of an Achilles tendon rupture if you have Achilles tendinopathy (also called Achilles tendinitis). This is where your tendon breaks down, which causes pain and stiffness in your Achilles tendon, both when you exercise and afterwards. If you take quinolone antibiotics and corticosteroid medicines, it can increase your risk of an Achilles tendon injury, particularly if you take them together. The exact reasons for this aren't fully understood at present.
Tendon strain or tendon inflammation (tendonitis) can occur from tendon injury or overuse and can lead to a rupture. Call your doctor if you have signs of minor tendon problems. Minor tenderness and possible swelling increases with activity. There is usually no specific event causing sudden pain and no obvious gap in the tendon. You can still walk or stand on your toes. Acute calf pain and swelling can indicate a tear or partial tear of the Achilles tendon where it meets the calf muscle. You may still be able to use that foot to walk, but you will need to see a specialist such as an orthopedic surgeon. Surgery is not usually done for partial tears. Sometimes special heel pads or orthotics in your shoes may help. Follow up with your doctor to check for tendonitis or strain before resuming activity, because both can increase the risk of tendon rupture. Any acute injury causing pain, swelling, and difficulty with weight-bearing activities such as standing and walking may indicate you have a tear in your Achilles tendon. Seek prompt medical attention from your doctor or emergency department. Do not delay! Early treatment results in better outcome. If you have any question or uncertainty, get it checked.
If an Achilles tendon rupture is suspected, it is important to consult a doctor straight away so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment recommended. Until a doctor can be consulted it is important to let the foot hang down with the toes pointed to the ground. This prevents the ends of the ruptured tendon pulling any farther apart. The doctor will take a full medical history, including any previous Achilles tendon injuries and what activity was being undertaken at the time the present injury occurred. The doctor will also conduct a physical examination and will check for swelling, tenderness and range of movement in the lower leg and foot. A noticeable gap may be able to be felt in the tendon at the site of the rupture. This is most obvious just after the rupture has occurred and swelling will eventually make this gap difficult to feel. One test commonly used to confirm an Achilles tendon rupture is the Thomson test. For this test the patient lies face down on an examination table. The doctor then squeezes the calf muscles; an action that would normally cause the foot to point like a ballerina (plantar flexion). When a partial rupture has occurred the foot's ability to point may be decreased. When a complete rupture has occurred, the foot may not point at all. Ultrasound scanning of the Achilles tendon may also be recommended in order to assist with the diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
A medical professional will take MRI scans to confirm the diagnosis and indicate the extent of the injury. Sometimes the leg is put in a cast and allowed to heal without surgery. This is generally not the preferred method, particularly for young active people. Surgery is the most common treatment for an achilles tendon rupture.
Regaining Achilles tendon function after an injury is critical for walking. The goal of Achilles tendon repair is to reconnect the calf muscles with the heel bone to restore push-off strength. Those best suited for surgical repair of an acute or chronic Achilles tendon rupture include healthy, active people who want to return to activities such as jogging, running, biking, etc. Even those who are less active may be candidates for surgical repair. Non-operative treatment may also be an option. The decision to operate should be discussed with your orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon.
Achilles tendon rupture can be prevented by avoiding chronic injury to the Achilles tendon (i.e. tendonitis), as well as being careful to warm up and stretch properly before physical activity. Additionally, be sure to use properly fitting equipment (e.g. running shoes) and correct training techniques to avoid this problem!