The Achilles tendon is an important part of the leg. It is located just behind and above the heel. It joins the heel bone to the calf muscles. Its function is to help in bending the foot downwards at the ankle (this movement is called plantar flexion by doctors). If the Achilles tendon is torn, this is called an Achilles tendon rupture. The tear may be either partial or complete. In a partial tear, the tendon is partly torn but still joined to the calf muscle. With complete tears, the tendon is completely torn so that the connection between the calf muscles and the ankle bone is lost.
Often an Achilles rupture can occur spontaneously without any prodromal symptoms. Unfortunately the first "pop" or "snap" that you experience is your Achilles tendon rupture. Achilles tendon rupture most commonly occurs in the middle-aged male athlete (the weekend warrior who is engaging in a pickup game of basketball, for example). Injury often occurs during recreational sports that require bursts of jumping, pivoting, and running. Most often these are tennis, racquetball, squash, basketball, soccer, softball and badminton. Achilles rupture can happen in the following situations. You make a forceful push-off with your foot while your knee is straightened by the powerful thigh muscles. One example might be starting a foot race or jumping. You suddenly trip or stumble, and your foot is thrust in front to break a fall, forcefully over stretching the tendon. You fall from a significant height. It does appear that previous history of Achilles tendonitis results in a degenerative tendon, which can grow weak and thin with age and lack of use. Then it becomes prone to injury or rupture. Certain illnesses (such as arthritis and diabetes) and medications (such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics) can also increase the risk of rupture.
Although it's possible to have no signs or symptoms with an Achilles tendon rupture, most people experience pain, possibly severe, and swelling near your heel, an inability to bend your foot downward or "push off" the injured leg when you walk, an inability to stand on your toes on the injured leg, a popping or snapping sound when the injury occurs. Seek medical advice immediately if you feel a pop or snap in your heel, especially if you can't walk properly afterward.
Diagnosis is made mostly by clinical examination with a defect usually noted on visual examination and by touching the area. A simple test can be done by squeezing the back of the calf with the foot resting in the air. Normally when squeezing the muscle belly the tendon will shorten causing the foot to move in a downward position. With a rupture this squeezing effect may show no movement of the foot if it is not attached properly. A negative test does not mean there isn't some degree of rupture as some of the tendon fibers may still be attached. Sometimes x-rays, an mri, or an ultrasound can be helpful in determining the extent of the rupture.
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.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if you?re young and active, or an athlete. However, this will depend on where your tendon is ruptured. If the rupture is at, or above, the point at which your tendon merges with your calf muscle, for example, surgery may not be possible. There are three main types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. Open surgery. Your surgeon will make one long cut in your leg to reach the tendon and repair it. Limited open surgery. Your surgeon will still make a single cut but it will be shorter. Percutaneous surgery. Your surgeon will make a number of small cuts to reach the tendon and repair it. In all types of surgery, your surgeon will stitch the tendon together so it can heal. Each type of surgery has different risks. Open surgery is less likely to injure one of the nerves in your leg for example, but has a higher risk of infection. Ask your surgeon to explain the risks in more detail. After your operation, you will need to wear a series of casts or an adjustable brace on your leg to help your Achilles tendon heal. This will usually be for between four and eight weeks. There is a chance that your tendon will rupture again after the operation.
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.