The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body. It connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. However, this tendon is also the most common site of rupture or tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon due to overuse. Achilles tendon rupture is a partial or complete tear of the Achilles tendon. It comes on suddenly, sometimes with a popping sound, and can be debilitating. A full rupture is more severe, but less common, than a partial rupture. A full rupture splits the Achilles tendon so that it no longer connects the calf muscle to the heel: the calf muscle can no longer cause the foot to push off, so normal walking is impossible. If it is a full rupture, then lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb will reveal a gap in the Achilles tendon. Partial and full Achilles tendon ruptures are most likely to occur in sports requiring sudden stretching, such as sprinting and racquet sports. Partial Achilles tendon tears are also common among middle and long distance runners.
As with any muscle or tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon can be torn if there is a high force or stress on it. This can happen with activities which involve a forceful push off with the foot, for example, in football, running, basketball, diving, and tennis. The push off movement uses a strong contraction of the calf muscles which can stress the Achilles tendon too much. The Achilles tendon can also be damaged by injuries such as falls, if the foot is suddenly forced into an upward-pointing position, this movement stretches the tendon. Another possible injury is a deep cut at the back of the ankle, which might go into the tendon. Sometimes the Achilles tendon is weak, making it more prone to rupture. Factors that weaken the Achilles tendon are as follows. Corticosteroid medication (such as prednisolone) - mainly if it is used as long-term treatment rather than a short course. Corticosteroid injection near the Achilles tendon. Certain rare medical conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome, where the body makes too much of its own corticosteroid hormones. Increasing age. Tendonitis (inflammation) of the Achilles tendon. Other medical conditions which can make the tendon more prone to rupture; for example, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus. Certain antibiotic medicines may slightly increase the risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture. These are the quinolone antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin. The risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture with these antibiotics is actually very low, and mainly applies if you are also taking corticosteroid medication or are over the age of about 60.
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.
Other less serious causes of pain in the back of the lower leg include Achilles tendonitis or bursitis. To distinguish between these possibilities, your physician will take a thorough history and examine your lower leg to look for signs of a rupture. The presence of a defect in the tendon that can be felt, evidence of weakness with plantarflexion, and a history consistent with Achilles tendon rupture are usually sufficient for diagnosis. Your physician may also perform a Thompson test, which consists of squeezing the calf muscles of the affected leg. With an intact Achilles tendon, the foot will bend downward; however, with a complete rupture of the tendon, the foot will not move. In cases where the diagnosis is equivocal, your physician may order an MRI of the leg to diagnose a rupture of the Achilles tendon.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment of Achilles tendon rupture is usually reserved for patients who are relatively sedentary or may be at higher risk for complications with surgical intervention (due to other associated medical problems). This involves a period of immobilization, followed by range of motion and strengthening exercises; unfortunately, it is associated with a higher risk of re-rupture of the tendon, and possibly a less optimal functional outcome.
There are two types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. In open surgery, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the back of the leg. In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions rather than one large incision. In both types of surgery, the surgeon sews the tendon back together through the incision(s). Surgery may be delayed for about a week after the rupture, to let the swelling go down.
To help prevent an Achilles tendon injury, it is a good practice to perform stretching and warm-up exercises before any participating in any activities. Gradually increase the intensity and length of time of activity. Muscle conditioning may help to strengthen the muscles in the body.