The Achilles tendon is the tough sinew that attaches the calf muscle to the back of the calcaneus, or heel bone. It is also known as the tendo calcaneus or the tendo Achilles and happens to be one of the longest tendons in the body. An Achilles tendon rupture occurs when the Achilles tendon is partially or completely broken or torn. The average age of patients who suffer Achilles tendon ruptures is 30 to 40 years. The male-to-female ratio is nearly 20 to 1.
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 up 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.
During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect your lower leg for tenderness and swelling. In many cases, doctors can feel a gap in your tendon if it has ruptured completely. The doctor may also ask you to kneel on a chair or lie on your stomach with your feet hanging over the end of the exam table. He or she may then squeeze your calf muscle to see if your foot will automatically flex. If it doesn’t, you probably have ruptured your Achilles tendon. If there’s a question about the extent of your Achilles tendon injury, whether it’s completely or only partially ruptured, your doctor may order an ultrasound or MRI scan. These painless procedures create images of the tissues of your body.
Non Surgical Treatment
If you suspect a total rupture of the achilles tendon then apply cold therapy and compression and seek medical attention as soon as possible. In most cases surgery is required and the sooner this takes place the higher the chances of success. If the injury is left longer than two days then the chances of a successful outcome decrease. Cold and compression can also be applied throughout the rehabilitation phase as swelling is likely to be an issue with such a serious injury.
There are two different types of surgeries; open surgery and percutaneous surgery. During an open surgery an incision is made in the back of the leg and the Achilles tendon is stitched together. In a complete or serious rupture the tendon of plantaris or another vestigial muscle is harvested and wrapped around the Achilles tendon, increasing the strength of the repaired tendon. If the tissue quality is poor, e.g. the injury has been neglected, the surgeon might use a reinforcement mesh (collagen, Artelon or other degradable material). In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions, rather than one large incision, and 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. For sedentary patients and those who have vasculopathy or risks for poor healing, percutaneous surgical repair may be a better treatment choice than open surgical repair.