The Achilles tendon is an important part of the leg. It is located just behind and above the heel. It joins the heel bone to the calf muscles. Its function is to help in bending the foot downwards at the ankle (this movement is called plantar flexion by doctors). If the Achilles tendon is torn, this is called an Achilles tendon rupture. The tear may be either partial or complete. In a partial tear, the tendon is partly torn but still joined to the calf muscle. With complete tears, the tendon is completely torn so that the connection between the calf muscles and the ankle bone is lost.
The causes of an Achilles tendon rupture are very similar to Achilles tendinitis. Causes include. Running uphill. Running on a hard surface. Quickly changing speeds from walking to running. Playing sports that cause you to quickly start and stop.
An Achilles tendon rupture is when the tendon that connects the heel bone to the calf muscle tears and the fibers separate. This happens mostly between the ages of 30 and 50, and usually is caused by sports. Symptoms of Achilles tendon rupture include the following. A pop or snap when the tendon tears. Severe pain in back of the ankle, making it nearly impossible to walk. Swelling and discoloration. Tenderness. Inability to rise on toes. A gap in the back of the ankle where the tendons are separated.
A diagnosis can be made clinically, but an MRI or ultrasound scan can confirm it. On examination, the patient will present with reduced plantarflexion strength, a positive Thompson test and potentially, a palpable gap in the Achilles. The whole length of the tendon should be examined to check for injuries that can occur at the insertion and the musculotendinous junction.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of the initial injury is with use of ice, elevation, and immobilization. If suspected you should contact your podiatrist or physician. Further treatment with continued immobilization, pain medication, or anti-inflammatory medications may be advised. If casted the foot is usually placed in a plantarflexed position to decrease the stretch on the tendon. As healing progresses the cast is changed to a more dorsiflexed position at the ankle. The casting processes can be up to 8 weeks or more.
While it is possible to treat an Achilles tendon rupture without surgery, this is not ideal since the maximum strength of the muscle and tendon rarely returns. The reason is the ends of the tendon are ruptured in a very irregular manner, almost like the ends of a paint brush. As soon as the tendon ruptures, the calf muscle (gastrocnemius muscle) continues to pull on the tendon and the end of the ruptured tendon pulls back into the leg, which is called retraction. Once the tendon retracts, it is never possible to get sufficient strength back without surgery, because the muscle no longer functions at the correct biomechanical length and is now stretched out. There are patients for whom surgery cannot be performed, in particular, due to existing medical conditions that may add to potential for complications following surgery. For these patients, a specially designed boot that positions the foot correctly and takes the pressure and tension off the muscle and tendon is used. Most importantly, a cast is never used because it causes permanent shrinkage (atrophy) of the calf muscle. The special boot permits pressure on the foot with walking. The boot also has a hinge to permit movement of the ankle. Many studies of Achilles tendon ruptures have shown that this movement of the foot in the boot while walking is ideal for tendon healing. If surgery is not recommended, it is essential to obtain special tests to check that the ends of the tendon are lying next to each other so that healing can occur. The best test to do this is an ultrasound and not an MRI.