An Achilles tendon rupture is a tear in the strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. The tendon can rupture partially or completely. Your Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body and plays a critical role. In fact, you rely on it every time you move your foot. The tendon helps you point your foot down, rise on your toes and push off as you walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is a serious injury. If you suspect you have torn your Achilles - especially if you hear a pop or snap in your heel and cannot walk properly - seek medical attention immediately.
The exact cause of Achilles tendon ruptures is hard to say. It can happen suddenly, without warning, or following an Achilles tendonitis . It seems that weak calf muscles may contribute to problems. If the muscles are weak and become fatigued, they may tighten and shorten. Overuse can also be a problem by leading to muscle fatigue . The more fatigued the calf muscles are, the shorter and tighter they will become. This tightness can increase the stress on the Achilles tendon and result in a rupture. Additionally, an imbalance of strength of the anterior lower leg muscles and the posterior lower leg muscles may also put an athlete at risk for an injury to the Achilles tendon. An Achilles tendon rupture is more likely when the force on the tendon is greater than the strength of the tendon. If the foot is dorsiflexed while the lower leg moves forward and the calf muscles contract, a rupture may occur. Most ruptures happen during a forceful stretch of the tendon while the calf muscles contract. Other factors that may increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture include. Tight calf muscles and/or Achilles tendon. Change in running surface eg: from grass to concrete. Incorrect or poor footwear. A change of footwear eg: from heeled to flat shoes. It is thought that some medical conditions, such as gout, tuberculosis and systemic lupus erythematosus, may increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture.
It happens suddenly, often without warning. There is often a popping sound when the tendon ruptures. The patient usually feel as if someone has kicked their heel from the rear, only to turn around to find nobody there. There is acute pain and swelling in the back of the heel due to bleeding from the tendon rupture. The patient will have difficulty walking as they cannot toe off without pain. This causes them to walk with a limp.
The diagnosis is usually made on the basis of symptoms, the history of the injury and a doctor's examination. The doctor may look at your walking and observe whether you can stand on tiptoe. She/he may test the tendon using a method called Thompson's test (also known as the calf squeeze test). In this test, you will be asked to lie face down on the examination bench and to bend your knee. The doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles at the back of your leg, and observe how the ankle moves. If the Achilles tendon is OK, the calf squeeze will make the foot point briefly away from the leg (a movement called plantar flexion). This is quite an accurate test for Achilles tendon rupture. If the diagnosis is uncertain, an ultrasound or MRI scan may help. An Achilles tendon rupture is sometimes difficult to diagnose and can be missed on first assessment. It is important for both doctors and patients to be aware of this and to look carefully for an Achilles tendon rupture if it is suspected.
Non Surgical Treatment
The other option is to allow your tendon to heal without surgery. In this case, you also need to wear a cast, splint, walking boot, or brace for 6-8 weeks. You also may have different exercises to do. If you are less active or have a chronic illness that prevents surgery, this option may be better for you.
This injury is often treated surgically. Surgical care adds the risks of surgery, there are for you to view. After the surgery, the cast and aftercare is typically as follows. A below-knee cast (from just below the knee to the tips of the toes) is applied. The initial cast may be applied with your foot positioned in a downward direction to allow the ends of the tendon to lie closer together for initial healing. You may be brought back in 2-3 week intervals until the foot can be positioned at 90 degrees to the leg in the cast. The first 6 weeks in the cast are typically non-weight bearing with crutches or other suitable device to assist with the non-weight bearing requirement. After 6 weeks in the non-removable cast, a removable walking cast is started. The removable walking cast can be removed for therapy, sleeping and bathing. The period in the removable walking cast may need to last for an additional 2-6 weeks. Your doctor will review a home physical therapy program with you (more on this program later) that will typically start not long after your non-removable cast is removed. Your doctor may also refer you for formal physical therapy appointments. Typically, weight bearing exercise activities are kept restricted for at least 4 months or more. Swimming or stationary cycling activities may be allowed sooner. Complete healing may take 12 months or more.
You can help to reduce your risk of an injury to your Achilles tendon by doing the following. When you start a new exercise regime, gradually increase the intensity and the length of time you spend being active. Warm up your muscles before you exercise and cool them down after you have finished. The benefit of stretching before or after exercise is unproven. However, it may help to stretch your calf muscles, which will help to lengthen your Achilles tendon, before you exercise. Wear appropriate and well-fitting shoes when you exercise.