An Achilles tendon rupture, also known as an Achilles tendon tear, is the snapping or pulling apart of the Achilles tendon into two pieces. Achilles tendon ruptures can be full ruptures or partial ruptures. A physician may be required to distinguish between acute Achilles tendinosis and a partial Achilles tendon rupture. Tennis Leg is a rupture of the connection between the calf muscle and the Achilles tendon. Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon: it is much less common than, but often confused with, Achilles tendinosis. Achilles tendons can also be lacerated or crushed.
The exact cause of Achilles tendon ruptures is hard to say. It can happen suddenly, without warning, or following an Achilles tendonitis . It seems that weak calf muscles may contribute to problems. If the muscles are weak and become fatigued, they may tighten and shorten. Overuse can also be a problem by leading to muscle fatigue . The more fatigued the calf muscles are, the shorter and tighter they will become. This tightness can increase the stress on the Achilles tendon and result in a rupture. Additionally, an imbalance of strength of the anterior lower leg muscles and the posterior lower leg muscles may also put an athlete at risk for an injury to the Achilles tendon. An Achilles tendon rupture is more likely when the force on the tendon is greater than the strength of the tendon. If the foot is dorsiflexed while the lower leg moves forward and the calf muscles contract, a rupture may occur. Most ruptures happen during a forceful stretch of the tendon while the calf muscles contract. Other factors that may increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture include. Tight calf muscles and/or Achilles tendon. Change in running surface eg: from grass to concrete. Incorrect or poor footwear. A change of footwear eg: from heeled to flat shoes. It is thought that some medical conditions, such as gout, tuberculosis and systemic lupus erythematosus, may increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture.
A sudden and severe pain may be felt at the back of the ankle or calf, often described as "being hit by a rock or shot" or "like someone stepped onto the back of my ankle." The sound of a loud pop or snap may be reported. A gap or depression may be felt and seen in the tendon about 2 inches above the heel bone. Initial pain, swelling, and stiffness may be followed by bruising and weakness. The pain may decrease quickly, and smaller tendons may retain the ability to point the toes. Without the Achilles tendon, though, this would be very difficult. Standing on tiptoe and pushing off when walking will be impossible. A complete tear is more common than a partial tear.
A typical history as detailed above together with positive clinical examination usually will clinch the diagnosis. In an acute rupture, one can usually feel the gap in the tendon from the rupture. There may be swelling or bruising around the ankle and foot of the injured leg. With the patient lying on the tummy (prone position) with the knee flexed, the examiner should see the ankle and foot flex downwards (plantarward) when squeezing the calf muscles. If there is no movement in the ankle and foot on squeezing the calf muscle, this implies that the calf muscle is no longer attached to the heel bone due to a complete Achilles tendon rupture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-operative treatment consists of placing the foot in a downward position [equinus] and providing relative immobilization of the foot in this position until the Achilles has healed. This typically involves some type of stable bracing or relative immobilization for 6 weeks, often with limited or no weight bearing. The patient can then be transitioned to a boot with a heel lift and then gradually increase their activity level within the boot. It is very important that the status of the Achilles is monitored throughout non-operative treatment. This can be done by examination or via ultrasound. If there is evidence of gapping or non-healing, surgery may need to be considered. Formal protocols have been developed to help optimize non-operative treatments and excellent results have been reported with these protocols. The focus of these treatments is to ensure that the Achilles rupture is in continuity and is healing in a satisfactory manner. The primary advantage of non-operative treatment is that without an incision in this area, there are no problems with wound healing or infection. Wound infection following Achilles tendon surgery can be a devastating complication and therefore, for many patients, non-operative treatment should be contemplated. The main disadvantage of non-operative treatment is that the recovery is probably slower. On average, the main checkpoints of recovery occur 3-4 weeks quicker with operative treatment than with non-operative treatment. In addition, the re-rupture rate appears to be higher with some non-operative treatments. Re-rupture typically occurs 8-18 months after the original injury.
Surgery offers important potential benefits. Besides decreasing the likelihood of re-rupturing the Achilles tendon, surgery often increases the patients push-off strength and improves muscle function and movement of the ankle. Various surgical techniques are available to repair the rupture. The surgeon will select the procedure best suited to the patient. Following surgery, the foot and ankle are initially immobilized in a cast or walking boot. The surgeon will determine when the patient can begin weight bearing. Complications such as incision-healing difficulties re-rupture of the tendon, or nerve pain can arise after surgery.
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or rupture, the following tips are recommended. Avoid activities that place an enormous stress on the heel (for example, uphill running or excessive jumping). Stop all activity if there is pain at the back of the heel. If pain resumes with one particular exercise, another exercise should be selected. Wear proper shoes. Gradually strengthen calf muscles with sit-ups if prior episodes of Achilles tendonitis have occurred. Always warm up with stretching exercises before any activity. Avoid high-impact sports if prior episodes of Achilles tendon injury.