The Achilles tendon connects the muscles in the back of your lower leg to your heel bone. It allows you to move your foot down (?step on the gas? motion). This movement is essential for walking, running, and jumping. A sudden strong contraction of the lower leg (such as when playing sports) can partially tear or rupture the Achilles tendon. This injury is more likely if there is prior injury or inflammation of that tendon from prior stress. You may feel a pop or snap, or like you have been kicked. An Achilles tendon tear will cause local swelling and pain and difficulty in walking. A complete Achilles rupture is usually treated with surgery to attach the torn ends of the tendon. This is followed by 6-8 weeks in a walking cast, boot, or splint. Nonsurgical treatment is an option, but it will take longer to heal and the risk of repeat rupture is greater. With either type of treatment, you will need a physical therapy program to strengthen your Achilles tendon. It will take 4-6 months to return to your former level of activity.
Often the individual will feel or hear a pop or a snap when the injury occurs. There is immediate swelling and severe pain in the back of the heel, below the calf where it ruptures. Pain is usually severe enough that it is difficult or impossible to walk or take a step. The individual will not be able to push off or go on their toes.
The most common initial symptom of Achilles tendon rupture is a sudden snap at the back of the heels with intense pain. Immediately after the rupture, the majority of individuals will have difficult walking. Some individuals may have had previous complains of calf or heel pain, suggesting prior tendon inflammation or irritation. Immediately after an Achilles tendon rupture, most individuals will develop a limp. In addition, when the ankle is moved, the patient will complain of pain. In all cases, the affected ankle will have no strength. Once the Achilles tendon is ruptured, the individual will not be able to run, climb up the stairs, or stand on his toes. The ruptured Achilles tendon prevents the power from the calf muscles to move the heel. Whenever the diagnosis is missed, the recovery is often prolonged. Bruising and swelling around the calf and ankle occur. Achilles tendon rupture is frequent in elderly individuals who have a sedentary lifestyle and suddenly become active. In these individuals, the tendon is not strong and the muscles are deconditioned, making recovery more difficult. Achilles tendon rupture has been reported after injection of corticosteroids around the heel bone or attachment of the tendon. The fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin [Cipro]) is also known to cause Achilles tendon weakness and rupture, especially in young children. Some individuals have had a prior tendon rupture that was managed conservatively. In such cases, recurrence of rupture is very high.
The diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is made entirely on physical examination. Often, there is a substantial defect in the Achilles from 2-5 cm before it inserts into the heel bone. However, the main test is to determine whether the Achilles has been ruptured is the Thompson test. This essentially involves placing the patient on their stomach and squeezing the calf muscle. If the Achilles is intact, the foot will rise [plantar flex]. If it is ruptured, the foot will not move and will tend to be in a lower lying position.
Non Surgical Treatment
The best treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon often depends on your age, activity level and the severity of your injury. In general, younger and more active people often choose surgery to repair a completely ruptured Achilles tendon while older people are more likely to opt for nonsurgical treatment. Recent studies, however, have shown fairly equal effectiveness of both operative and nonoperative management. Nonsurgical treatment. This approach typically involves wearing a cast or walking boot with wedges to elevate your heel; this allows the ends of your torn tendon to heal. This method can be effective, and it avoids the risks, such as infection, associated with surgery. However, the likelihood of re-rupture may be higher with a nonsurgical approach, and recovery can take longer. If re-rupture occurs, surgical repair may be more difficult.
Operative treatment involves a 6cm incision along the inner side of the tendon. The torn ends are then strongly stitched together with the correct tension. After the operation a below knee half cast is applied for 2 weeks. At 2 weeks a brace will be applied that will allow you to move the foot and fully weight-bear for a further 6 weeks. After this you will need physiotherapy. Surgery carries the general risks of any operation but the risk of re-rupture is greatly reduced to 2%. The best form of treatment is controversial with good results being obtained by both methods but surgery is generally recommended for patients under 60 years of age who are fit and active with an intra-substance tear.
The best treatment of Achilles tendonitis is prevention. Stretching the Achilles tendon before exercise, even at the start of the day, will help to maintain ankle flexibility. Problems with foot mechanics can also lead to Achilles tendonitis. This can often be treated with devices inserted into the shoes such as heel cups, arch supports, and custom orthotics.