Complete Achilles tendon ruptures occur most commonly at the mid-substance, but also distally at the insertion site or proximally at the myotendinous junction. These can be traumatic and devastating injuries, resulting in significant pain, disability, and healthcare cost. As many as 2.5 million individuals sustain Achilles tendon ruptures each year and the incidence is rising. This trend is due, in part, to an increase in athletic participation across individuals of all ages.
Repeated stress from a variety of causes is often the cause of Achilles tendon injury. The stress may occur from any of the following. Excessive activity or overuse. Flat feet. Poorly fitting or inadequate shoes. Inadequate warm-up or proper conditioning. Jogging or running on hard surfaces. Older recreational athlete. Previous Achilles tendon injury (tendonitis/rupture). Repeated steroid injections. Sudden changes in intensity of exercise. Use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics (especially in children). Trauma to the ankle. Tense calf muscles prior to exercise. Weak calf muscles.
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.
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
Once a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture has been confirmed, a referral to an orthopaedic specialist for treatment will be recommended. Treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture aims to facilitate the torn ends of the tendon healing back together again. Treatment may be non-surgical (conservative) or surgical. Factors such as the site and extent of the rupture, the time since the rupture occurred and the preferences of the specialist and patient will be considered when deciding which treatment will be undertaken. Some cases of rupture that have not responded well to non-surgical treatment may require surgery at a later stage. The doctor will immobilise the ankle in a cast or a special hinged splint (known as a ?moon boot?) with the foot in a toes-pointed position. The cast or splint will stay in place for 6 - 8 weeks. The cast will be checked and may be changed during this time.
Some surgeons feel an early surgical repair of the tendon is beneficial. The surgical option was long thought to offer a significantly smaller risk of re-rupture compared to traditional non-operative management (5% vs 15%). Of course, surgery imposes higher relative risks of perioperative mortality and morbidity e.g. infection including MRSA, bleeding, deep vein thrombosis, lingering anesthesia effects, etc.
There are things you can do to help prevent an Achilles tendon injury. You should try the following. Cut down on uphill running. Wear shoes with good support that fit well. Always increase the intensity of your physical activity slowly. Stop exercising if you feel pain or tightness in the back of your calf or heel.