A torn or ruptured Achilles tendon is simply no fun at all. This essential cord of strong, fibrous material attaches the heel bone to the calf muscles and is used in just about every movement, from walking and running to jumping and standing on your tip-toes. It also helps bend the foot downwards at the ankle. As the strongest tendon in the body, the Achilles can withstand a force of about 1,000 pounds. About 7 out of every 100,000 people will suffer from a ruptured Achilles at some point in time, with over 80% of these injuries occurring during a recreational sports activity. Athletes have a 24% chance of tearing their Achilles, but competitive runners have a 40 to 50% chance of Achilles tendon rupture during their lifetime.
The most common cause of a ruptured Achilles' tendon is when too much stress is placed through the tendon, particularly when pushing off with the foot. This may happen when playing sports such as football, basketball or tennis where the foot is dorsiflexed or pushed into an upward position during a fall. If the Achilles' tendon is weak, it is prone to rupture. Various factors can cause weakness, including corticosteroid medication and injections, certain diseases caused by hormone imbalance and tendonitis. Old age can also increase the risk of Achilles' tendon rupture.
Symptoms include a sudden sharp pain in the achilles tendon which is often described as if being physically struck by an object or implement. A loud snapping noise or bang may also be heard at the time. A gap of 4 to 5 cm in the tendon can be felt which may be less obvious later as swelling increases. After a short while the athlete may be able to walk again but without the power to push off with the foot. There will be a significant loss of strength in the injured leg and the patient will be unable to stand on tip toes. There may be considerable swelling around the achilles tendon and a positive result for Thompson's test can help confirm the diagnosis.
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 a complete rupture has occurred. Achilles tendon rupture can be diagnosed reliably with clinical examination, but if there?s a question about the extent of your Achilles tendon injury then your doctor may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor may advise you to rest your leg and keep the tendon immobile in a plaster cast while it heals. Or you may need to have an operation to treat an Achilles tendon rupture. The treatment you have will depend on your individual circumstances, such as your age, general health and how active you are. It will also depend on whether you have partially or completely torn your tendon. If you have a partial tear, it might get better without any treatment. Ask your doctor for advice on the best treatment for you. If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
Surgery is a common treatment for a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon. The procedure generally involves making an incision in the back of your lower leg and stitching the torn tendon together. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue, the repair may be reinforced with other tendons. Surgical complications can include infection and nerve damage. Infection rates are reduced in surgeries that employ smaller incisions. After treatment, whether surgical or nonsurgical, you'll go through a rehabilitation program involving physical therapy exercises to strengthen your leg muscles and Achilles tendon. Most people return to their former level of activity within four to six months.