About two thirds of all Achilles tendon ruptures occur during sports. Total ruptures are most common in sports with stop-and-go movements, especially ball sports. The majority of patients suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon when stopping suddenly during a fast vigorous movement. Usually the Achilles tendon tears about 5 cm before it inserts into the heel bone. Particularly at risk for a tear are athletes who have already suffered from Achilles tendon problems for some time.
Your Achilles tendon helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon located within 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section may be predisposed to rupture because it gets less blood flow, which may impair its ability to heal. Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. Common examples include increasing the intensity of sports participation, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
Tendon strain or tendon inflammation (tendonitis) can occur from tendon injury or overuse and can lead to a rupture. Call your doctor if you have signs of minor tendon problems. Minor tenderness and possible swelling increases with activity. There is usually no specific event causing sudden pain and no obvious gap in the tendon. You can still walk or stand on your toes. Acute calf pain and swelling can indicate a tear or partial tear of the Achilles tendon where it meets the calf muscle. You may still be able to use that foot to walk, but you will need to see a specialist such as an orthopedic surgeon. Surgery is not usually done for partial tears. Sometimes special heel pads or orthotics in your shoes may help. Follow up with your doctor to check for tendonitis or strain before resuming activity, because both can increase the risk of tendon rupture. Any acute injury causing pain, swelling, and difficulty with weight-bearing activities such as standing and walking may indicate you have a tear in your Achilles tendon. Seek prompt medical attention from your doctor or emergency department. Do not delay! Early treatment results in better outcome. If you have any question or uncertainty, get it checked.
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
Not every torn Achilles tendon needs an operation. Recent studies have shown that even a conservative treatment, i.e. immobilizingt the leg can lead to satisfactory healing successes. This requires, however, that the patient is fitted with a cast (immobilization splint) and/or a special boot for a period of approximately 6 - 8 weeks. After that, the boot must be worn during the day for about two more weeks. An intensive physiotherapy will start after about six weeks to train the calf muscles so that the initial coordination can be restored. Running training on flat ground can be started again after another 10 - 12 weeks. Studies show that the danger of a recurring torn tendon is higher after a conservative treatment opposed to an operative treatment. Depending on the type of treatment, about 10 - 15 percent of those affected can expect at some point to again suffer from a tear of the Achilles tendon. Moreover, in the non-operated cases, we see more often a significant permanent weakness of the footprint, particularly restricting the ability to participate in sports.
Surgery is the most common treatment for this condition. An incision is made in the lower leg and the tendon is sewn back together. A cast, splint, walking boot, or brace is worn for 6-8 weeks. One of the benefits of surgery is that it lowers the risk of re-rupturing the tendon. Surgery may also be a better option if you are athletic.
To reduce your chance of developing Achilles tendon problems, follow the following tips. Stretch and strengthen calf muscles. Stretch your calf to the point at which you feel a noticeable pull but not pain. Don't bounce during a stretch. Calf-strengthening exercises can also help the muscle and tendon absorb more force and prevent injury. Vary your exercises. Alternate high-impact sports, such as running, with low-impact sports, such as walking, biking or swimming. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your Achilles tendons, such as hill running and jumping activities. Choose running surfaces carefully. Avoid or limit running on hard or slippery surfaces. Dress properly for cold-weather training and wear well-fitting athletic shoes with proper cushioning in the heels. Increase training intensity slowly. Achilles tendon injuries commonly occur after abruptly increasing training intensity. Increase the distance, duration and frequency of your training by no more than 10 percent each week.