The Achilles tendon is found in the back of the leg above the heel, and is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel bone and is used when walking, running and jumping. A rupture of the tendon is a tearing and separation of the tendon fibers. When a rupture of the tendon occurs, the tendon can no longer perform its normal function. A common issue related to a tear is the inability to point your toe.
Your Achilles tendon helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon located within 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section may be predisposed to rupture because it gets less blood flow, which may impair its ability to heal. Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. Common examples include increasing the intensity of sports participation, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
Whereas calf strains and tendonitis may cause tightness or pain in the leg, Achilles tendon ruptures are typically accompanied by a popping sensation and noise at the time of the injury. In fact, some patients joke that the popping sound was loud enough to make them think they?d been shot. Seeing a board-certified orthopedic surgeon is the best way to determine whether you have suffered an Achilles tendon tear.
A physician usually can make this diagnosis with a good physical examination and history. X-rays usually are not taken. A simple test of squeezing the calf muscles while lying on your stomach should indicate if the tendon is still connected (the foot should point). This test isolates the connection between the calf muscle and tendon and eliminates other tendons that may still allow weak movement. A word of caution, Achilles tendon rupture is often misdiagnosed as a strain or minor tendon injury. Swelling and the continuing ability to weakly point your toes can confuse the diagnosis. Ultrasound and MRI are tests that can assist in difficult diagnosis. Depending on the degree of injury, these tests can also assist in determining which treatment may be best.
Non Surgical Treatment
Once a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture has been confirmed, a referral to an orthopaedic specialist for treatment will be recommended. Treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture aims to facilitate the torn ends of the tendon healing back together again. Treatment may be non-surgical (conservative) or surgical. Factors such as the site and extent of the rupture, the time since the rupture occurred and the preferences of the specialist and patient will be considered when deciding which treatment will be undertaken. Some cases of rupture that have not responded well to non-surgical treatment may require surgery at a later stage. The doctor will immobilise the ankle in a cast or a special hinged splint (known as a ?moon boot?) with the foot in a toes-pointed position. The cast or splint will stay in place for 6 - 8 weeks. The cast will be checked and may be changed during this time.
Surgery is recommended to those who are young to middle-aged and active. The ruptured tendon is sewn together during surgery. This is an outpatient procedure. Afterward the leg is put into a splint cast or walking boot. Physical therapy will be recommended. In about 4 to 6 months, healing is nearly complete. However, it can take up to a year to return to sports fully.
Prevention centers on appropriate daily Achilles stretching and pre-activity warm-up. Maintain a continuous level of activity in your sport or work up gradually to full participation if you have been out of the sport for a period of time. Good overall muscle conditioning helps maintain a healthy tendon.