An Achilles tendon rupture is also known as a rupture of the gastrocnemius tendon, or the common calcanean tendon. The tendon is actually composed of 5 different tendons, the two most important being the superficial digital flexor and gastrocnemius tendons. The gastrocnemius tendon is the largest of these, and is the most powerful extensor of the hock (ankle) joint. Both the superficial digital flexor and gastrocnemius tendons attach to the heel bone, called the calcaneus bone. A rupture of the Achilles tendon may be a partial tear, which means just the gastrocnemius is torn, or a complete tear, in which all five tendons have been torn. (show diagrams, normal anatomy vs partial vs complete tears).
Factors that may increase your risk of Achilles tendon rupture include some of the following. Age. The peak age for Achilles tendon rupture is 30 to 40. Sex. Achilles tendon rupture is up to five times more likely to occur in men than in women. Recreational sports. Achilles tendon injuries occur more often during sports that involve running, jumping, and sudden starts and stops, such as soccer, basketball and tennis. Steroid injections. Doctors sometimes inject steroids into an ankle joint to reduce pain and inflammation. However, this medication can weaken nearby tendons and has been associated with Achilles tendon ruptures. Certain antibiotics. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or levofloxacin (Levaquin), increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture.
Typically patients present with sudden onset of pain and swelling in the achilles region, often accompanied by a audible snap during forceful dorsiflexion of the foot. A classic example is that of an unfit 'weekend warrior' playing squash. If complete a defect may be felt and the patient will have only minimal plantar flexion against resistance.
A physician usually can make this diagnosis with a good physical examination and history. X-rays usually are not taken. A simple test of squeezing the calf muscles while lying on your stomach should indicate if the tendon is still connected (the foot should point). This test isolates the connection between the calf muscle and tendon and eliminates other tendons that may still allow weak movement. A word of caution, Achilles tendon rupture is often misdiagnosed as a strain or minor tendon injury. Swelling and the continuing ability to weakly point your toes can confuse the diagnosis. Ultrasound and MRI are tests that can assist in difficult diagnosis. Depending on the degree of injury, these tests can also assist in determining which treatment may be best.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initial treatment for sprains and strains should occur as soon as possible. Remember RICE! Rest the injured part. Pain is the body's signal to not move an injury. Ice the injury. This will limit the swelling and help with the spasm. Compress the injured area. This again, limits the swelling. Be careful not to apply a wrap so tightly that it might act as a tourniquet and cut off the blood supply. Elevate the injured part. This lets gravity help reduce the swelling by allowing fluid and blood to drain downhill to the heart. Over-the-counter pain medication is an option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is helpful for pain, but ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) might be better, because these medications relieve both pain and inflammation. Remember to follow the guidelines on the bottle for appropriate amounts of medicine, especially for children and teens.
Surgery offers important potential benefits. Besides decreasing the likelihood of re-rupturing the Achilles tendon, surgery often increases the patient?s push-off strength and improves muscle function and movement of the ankle. Various surgical techniques are available to repair the rupture. The surgeon will select the procedure best suited to the patient. Following surgery, the foot and ankle are initially immobilized in a cast or walking boot. The surgeon will determine when the patient can begin weightbearing. Complications such as incision-healing difficulties, re-rupture of the tendon, or nerve pain can arise after surgery. Whether an Achilles tendon rupture is treated surgically or non-surgically, physical therapy is an important component of the healing process. Physical therapy involves exercises that strengthen the muscles and improve the range of motion of the foot and ankle.
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.