A rupture of the Achilles tendon is one of the more common types of tendon ruptures. As the largest tendon in the human body, the Achilles tendon is very important to one?s balance and stability. Patients who suffer an Achilles tendon rupture experience severe pain and often require Achilles tendon surgery to repair the damage. There are also less invasive methods of Achilles tendon treatment including, icing, anti-inflammatory medications, rehabilitation, taping or bracing, sports massages and more. Achilles tendon recovery is dependent on the health of the patient, and the severity of the injury.
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).
Patients with an Achilles tendon rupture will often complain of a sudden snap in the back of the leg. The pain is often intense. With a complete rupture, the individual will only be ambulate with a limp. Most people will not be able to climb stairs, run, or stand on their toes. Swelling around the calf may occur. Patients may often have had a sudden increase in exercise or intensity of activity. Some patients may have had recent corticosteroid injections or use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Some athletes may have had a prior injury to the tendon.
Diagnosis is made by clinical history; typically people say it feels like being kicked or shot behind the ankle. Upon examination a gap may be felt just above the heel unless swelling has filled the gap and the Simmonds' test (aka Thompson test) will be positive; squeezing the calf muscles of the affected side while the patient lies prone, face down, with his feet hanging loose results in no movement (no passive plantarflexion) of the foot, while movement is expected with an intact Achilles tendon and should be observable upon manipulation of the uninvolved calf. Walking will usually be severely impaired, as the patient will be unable to step off the ground using the injured leg. The patient will also be unable to stand up on the toes of that leg, and pointing the foot downward (plantarflexion) will be impaired. Pain may be severe, and swelling is common. Sometimes an ultrasound scan may be required to clarify or confirm the diagnosis. MRI can also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of a ruptured Achilles tendon is usually conservative (non-operative) in a Controlled Motion Ankle (CAM) Boot or it may require surgery. The current consensus based on research is to treat them conservatively since the functional outcome and chance of re-rupture is similar (7% to 15%) using both approaches but surgical intervention has a higher risk of infection. Achilles tendon surgery is usually considered if your Achilles has re-ruptured or there is delay of two weeks between the rupture and the diagnosis and commencement of conservative bracing and treatment.
Surgery to repair an Achilles tendon rupture is performed under a spinal or general anaesthetic. During surgery the surgeon makes an incision in the skin over the ruptured portion of the tendon. The tendon ends are located and joined together with strong sutures (stitches), allowing the tendon to closely approximate its previous length. The skin is then closed with sutures and the foot is immobilised in a cast or splint, again in the toes-pointed position. Seven to ten days after surgery the cast or splint is removed in order for the sutures in the skin to be removed. Another cast or splint will be applied and will stay in place a further 5 - 7 weeks.
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.