The Achilles tendon runs from the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg and inserts at the back of the heel. A torn achilles can be a partial rupture or a total rupture. A total rupture is more common in men affecting them 10 times more than women. Injury typically occurs 30 to 40 minutes into a period of exercise rather than at the start of a session and nearly always happens from a sudden explosive movement or bending the foot upwards. Many patients are able to continue to function following an achilles rupture due to other muscles compensating although the injured leg will be significantly weaker. There are four key tests which can help diagnose a ruptured achilles tendon.
Repeated stress from a variety of causes is often the cause of Achilles tendon injury. The stress may occur from any of the following. Excessive activity or overuse. Flat feet. Poorly fitting or inadequate shoes. Inadequate warm-up or proper conditioning. Jogging or running on hard surfaces. Older recreational athlete. Previous Achilles tendon injury (tendonitis/rupture). Repeated steroid injections. Sudden changes in intensity of exercise. Use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics (especially in children). Trauma to the ankle. Tense calf muscles prior to exercise. Weak calf muscles.
Ankle pain and swelling or feeling like the ankle has given out after falling or stumbling. A loud audible pop when the ankle is injured. Patients may have a history of prior ankle pain or Achilles tendonitis, and may be active in sports. Swelling, tenderness and possible discoloration or ecchymosis in the Achilles tendon region. Indentation above the injured tendon where the torn tendon may be present. Difficulty moving around or walking. Individual has difficulty or is unable to move their ankle with full range of motion. MRI can confirm disruption or tear in the tendon. Inability to lift the toes.
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
A medical professional will take MRI scans to confirm the diagnosis and indicate the extent of the injury. Sometimes the leg is put in a cast and allowed to heal without surgery. This is generally not the preferred method, particularly for young active people. Surgery is the most common treatment for an achilles tendon rupture.
Unlike other diseases of the Achilles tendon such as tendonitis or bursitis, Achilles tendon rupture is usually treated with surgical repair. The surgery consists of making a small incision in the back part of the leg, and using sutures to re-attach the two ends of the ruptured tendon. Depending on the condition of the ends of the ruptured tendon and the amount of separation, the surgeon may use other tendons to reinforce the repair. After the surgery, the leg will be immobilized for 6-8 weeks in a walking boot, cast, brace, or splint. Following this time period, patients work with a physical therapist to gradually regain their range of motion and strength. Return to full activity can take quite a long time, usually between 6 months and 1 year.
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.