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.
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.
If your Achilles tendon is ruptured you will experience severe pain in the back of your leg, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty to stand on tiptoe and push the leg when walking. A popping or snapping sound is heard when the injury occurs. You may also feel a gap or depression in the tendon, just above heel bone.
Your caregiver will ask what you were doing at the time of your injury. You may need any of the following. A calf-squeeze test is used to check for movement. You will lie on your stomach on a table or bed with your feet hanging over the edge. Your caregiver will squeeze the lower part of each calf. If your foot or ankle do not move, the tendon is torn. An x-ray will show swelling or any broken bones. An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your tendon on a monitor. An ultrasound may show a tear in the tendon. An MRI takes pictures of your tendon to show damage. You may be given dye to help the tendon show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-operative treatment consists of placing the foot in a downward position [equinus] and providing relative immobilization of the foot in this position until the Achilles has healed. This typically involves some type of stable bracing or relative immobilization for 6 weeks, often with limited or no weight bearing. The patient can then be transitioned to a boot with a heel lift and then gradually increase their activity level within the boot. It is very important that the status of the Achilles is monitored throughout non-operative treatment. This can be done by examination or via ultrasound. If there is evidence of gapping or non-healing, surgery may need to be considered. Formal protocols have been developed to help optimize non-operative treatments and excellent results have been reported with these protocols. The focus of these treatments is to ensure that the Achilles rupture is in continuity and is healing in a satisfactory manner. The primary advantage of non-operative treatment is that without an incision in this area, there are no problems with wound healing or infection. Wound infection following Achilles tendon surgery can be a devastating complication and therefore, for many patients, non-operative treatment should be contemplated. The main disadvantage of non-operative treatment is that the recovery is probably slower. On average, the main checkpoints of recovery occur 3-4 weeks quicker with operative treatment than with non-operative treatment. In addition, the re-rupture rate appears to be higher with some non-operative treatments. Re-rupture typically occurs 8-18 months after the original injury.
The surgical repair of an acute or chronic rupture of the Achilles tendon typically occurs in an outpatient setting. This means the patient has surgery and goes home the same day. Numbing medicine is often placed into the leg around the nerves to help decrease pain after surgery. This is called a nerve block. Patients are then put to sleep and placed in a position that allows the surgeon access to the ruptured tendon. Repair of an acute rupture often takes somewhere between 30 minutes and one hour. Repair of a chronic rupture can take longer depending on the steps needed to fix the tendon.
To help prevent an Achilles tendon injury, it is a good practice to perform stretching and warm-up exercises before any participating in any activities. Gradually increase the intensity and length of time of activity. Muscle conditioning may help to strengthen the muscles in the body.