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.
Achilles tendon rupture occurs in people that engage in strenuous activity, who are usually sedentary and have weakened tendons, or in people who have had previous chronic injury to their Achilles tendons. Previous injury to the tendon can be caused by overuse, improper stretching habits, worn-out or improperly fitting shoes, or poor biomechanics (flat-feet). The risk of tendon rupture is also increased with the use of quinolone antibiotics (e.g. ciprofloxacin, Levaquin).
A person with a ruptured Achilles tendon may experience one or more of the following. Sudden pain (which feels like a kick or a stab) in the back of the ankle or calf, often subsiding into a dull ache. A popping or snapping sensation. Swelling on the back of the leg between the heel and the calf. Difficulty walking (especially upstairs or uphill) and difficulty rising up on the toes. These symptoms require prompt medical attention to prevent further damage. Until the patient is able to see a doctor, the "R.I.C.E." method should be used. This involves, rest. Stay off the injured foot and ankle, since walking can cause pain or further damage. Ice. Apply a bag of ice covered with a thin towel to reduce swelling and pain. Do not put ice directly against the skin. Compression. Wrap the foot and ankle in an elastic bandage to prevent further swelling. Elevation. Keep the leg elevated to reduce the swelling. It should be even with or slightly above heart level.
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 it has ruptured completely. 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 an ultrasound or MRI scan. These painless procedures create images of the tissues of your body.
Non Surgical Treatment
As debilitating as they can be, the good news is that minor to moderate Achilles tendon injuries should heal on their own. You just need to give them time. To speed the healing, you can try the following. Rest your leg. Avoid putting weight on your leg as best you can. You may need crutches. Ice your leg. To reduce pain and swelling, ice your injury for 20 to 30 minutes, every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone. Compress your leg. Use an elastic bandage around the lower leg and ankle to keep down swelling. Elevate your leg. Prop you leg up on a pillow when you're sitting or lying down. Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs have side effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally unless your health care provider says otherwise and should be taken with food. Check with your doctor before taking these if you have any allergies, medical problems or take any other medication. Use a heel lift. Your health care provider may recommend that you wear an insert in your shoe while you recover. It will help protect your Achilles tendon from further stretching. Practice stretching and strengthening exercises as recommended by your health care provider. Usually, these techniques will do the trick. But in severe cases of Achilles tendon injury, you may need a cast for six to 10 weeks or even surgery to repair the tendon or remove excess tissue.
In general, for complete tear of the tendon, surgery is recommended. For partial tears, nonsurgical treatment is recommended. However, the selection of treatment depends on the patient, age, level of activity, and other risk factors. Surgery for Achilles tendon rupture is now routine and well established. Surgery is generally suggested for the young, healthy and active individuals. For athletes, surgery is often the first choice of treatment. The Achilles tendon can be repaired surgically by either a closed or open technique. With the open technique, an incision is made to allow for better visualization and approximation of the tendon. With the closed technique, the surgeon makes several small skin incisions through which the tendon is repaired. Irrespective of type of treatment, a short leg cast (plaster) is applied on the operated ankle after completion of the procedure. The advantages of a surgical approach includes a decreased risk of re-rupture rate (0%-5%) the majority of individuals can return to their original sporting activities (within a short time), and most regain their strength and endurance. Disadvantages of a surgical approach include hospital admission, wound complications (for example, skin sloughing, infection, sinus tract formation, sural nerve injury), higher costs, and hospital admission.
To help reduce your chance of getting Achilles tendon rupture, take the following steps. Do warm-up exercises before an activity and cool down exercises after an activity. Wear proper footwear. Maintain a healthy weight. Rest if you feel pain during an activity. Change your routine. Switch between high-impact activities and low-impact activities. Strengthen your calf muscle with exercises.