The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body; connecting the calf muscles to the heel. An Achilles tendon rupture prevents the tendon from performing its function of pulling the foot and ankle downward during walking, running and jumping. Most ruptures occur about four to six inches above the heel, but the tendon can also tear where it meets the heel bone.
There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of an Achilles tendon rupture, which include the following. You?re most likely to rupture your Achilles tendon during sports that involve bursts of jumping, pivoting and running, such as football or tennis. Your Achilles tendon becomes less flexible and less able to absorb repeated stresses, for example of running, as you get older. Small tears can develop in the fibres of the tendon and it may eventually completely tear. There is a very small risk of an Achilles tendon rupture if you have Achilles tendinopathy (also called Achilles tendinitis). This is where your tendon breaks down, which causes pain and stiffness in your Achilles tendon, both when you exercise and afterwards. If you take quinolone antibiotics and corticosteroid medicines, it can increase your risk of an Achilles tendon injury, particularly if you take them together. The exact reasons for this aren't fully understood at present.
You may notice the symptoms come on suddenly during a sporting activity or injury. You might hear a snap or feel a sudden sharp pain when the tendon is torn. The sharp pain usually settles quickly, although there may be some aching at the back of the lower leg. After the injury, the usual symptoms are as follows. A flat-footed type of walk. You can walk and bear weight, but cannot push off the ground properly on the side where the tendon is ruptured. Inability to stand on tiptoe. If the tendon is completely torn, you may feel a gap just above the back of the heel. However, if there is bruising then the swelling may disguise the gap. If you suspect an Achilles tendon rupture, it is best to see a doctor urgently, because the tendon heals better if treated sooner rather than later.
On physical examination the area will appear swollen and ecchymotic, which may inhibit the examiners ability to detect a palpable defect. The patient will be unable to perform a single heel raise. To detect the presence of a complete rupture the Thompson test can be performed. The test is done by placing the patient prone on the examination table with the knee flexed to 90?, which allows gravity and the resting tension of the triceps surae to increase the dorsiflexion at the ankle. The calf muscle is squeezed by the examiner and a lack of planar flexion is noted in positive cases. It is important to note that active plantar flexion may still be present in the face of a complete rupture due to the secondary flexor muscles of the foot. It has been reported that up to 25% of patients may initially be missed in the emergency department due to presence of active plantar flexion and swelling over the Achilles tendon, which makes palpation of a defect difficult.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of a ruptured Achilles tendon is usually conservative (non-operative) in a Controlled Motion Ankle (CAM) Boot or it may require surgery. The current consensus based on research is to treat them conservatively since the functional outcome and chance of re-rupture is similar (7% to 15%) using both approaches but surgical intervention has a higher risk of infection. Achilles tendon surgery is usually considered if your Achilles has re-ruptured or there is delay of two weeks between the rupture and the diagnosis and commencement of conservative bracing and treatment.
Surgical techniques for rupture repair are varied but usually involve reapproximation of the torn ends of the Achilles tendon, sometimes reinforced by the gastrocsoleus aponeurosis or plantaris tendon. Open reconstruction is undertaken using a medial longitudinal approach. Studies indicate that patients who undergo percutaneous, rather than an open, Achilles tendon rupture repair have a minimal rate of infection but a high rate of sural nerve entrapment (16.7% of treated cases).
The following can significantly reduce the risk of Achilles tendon rupture. Adequate stretching and warming up prior to exercising. If playing a seasonal sport, undertake preparatory exercises to build strength and endurance before the sporting season commences. Maintain a healthy body weight. This will reduce the load on the tendon and muscles. Use footwear appropriate for the sport or exercise being undertaken. Exercise within fitness limits and follow a sensible exercise programme. Increase exercise gradually and avoid unfamiliar strenuous exercise. Gradual ?warm down? after exercising.