An Achilles tendon rupture is a complete or partial tear that occurs when the tendon is stretched beyond its capacity. Forceful jumping or pivoting, or sudden accelerations of running, can overstretch the tendon and cause a tear. An injury to the tendon can also result from falling or tripping. Achilles tendon ruptures are most often seen in ?weekend warriors? - typically, middle-aged people participating in sports in their spare time. Less commonly, illness or medications, such as steroids or certain antibiotics, may weaken the tendon and contribute to ruptures.
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.
Patients who suffer an acute rupture of the Achilles tendon often report hearing a "pop" or "snap." Patients usually have severe pain the back of the lower leg near the heel. This may or may not be accompanied by swelling. Additionally, because the function of the Achilles tendon is to enable plantarflexion (bending the foot downward), patients often have difficulty walking or standing up on their toes.
It is usually possible to detect a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon on the history and examination. A gap may be felt in the tendon, usually 4-5cm above the heel bone. This is the normal site of injury and is called an intra-substance tear. The tear can occur higher up about 10cm above the insertion into the heel at the site where the muscles join the tendon, this is known as a musculo-tendinous tear. A special test will be performed which involves squeezing the calf. Normally if the Achilles tendon is intact this causes the foot to point downwards but if it is ruptured it causes no movement. To confirm the diagnosis and the exact site of the rupture it may be necessary to perform an Ultra-sound or MRI scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
The most widely used method of non-surgical treatment involves the use of serial casting with gradual progression from plantar flexion to neutral or using a solid removable boot with heel inserts to bring the ends of the tendon closer together. The advantage of a solid removable boot is that it allows the patient to begin early motion and is removable. Wide variability exists among surgeons in regards to the period of absolute immobilization, initiating range of motion exercises, and progression of weight bearing status.
Surgery may be indicated directly following injury rather than conservative care. Repair of an achilles tendon rupture is greatly varied for each clinical situation. There may be a direct repair of the ends of the tendon with suture, or possibly a tendon graft used to augment the tendon. Post-operatively, the period of immobilization will depend on the size of the defect that was repaired and how it was completed. Usually the immobilization is between 6-10 weeks. This repair may allow for a complete return to normal function, but in many instances the healing is complicated with adhesions and a partial loss of range of motion. There may be a continued soft tissue defect noted and a permanent or prolonged swelling.
Achilles tendon rupture can be prevented by avoiding chronic injury to the Achilles tendon (i.e. tendonitis), as well as being careful to warm up and stretch properly before physical activity. Additionally, be sure to use properly fitting equipment (e.g. running shoes) and correct training techniques to avoid this problem!