The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body; connecting the calf muscles to the heel. An Achilles tendon rupture prevents the tendon from performing its function of pulling the foot and ankle downward during walking, running and jumping. Most ruptures occur about four to six inches above the heel, but the tendon can also tear where it meets the heel bone.
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.
The classic sign of an Achilles' tendon rupture is a short sharp pain in the Achilles' area, which is sometimes accompanied by a snapping sound as the tendon ruptures. The pain usually subsides relatively quickly into an aching sensation. Other signs that are likely to be present subsequent to a rupture are the inability to stand on tiptoe, inability to push the foot off the ground properly resulting in a flat footed walk. With complete tears it may be possible to feel the two ends of tendon where it has snapped, however swelling to the area may mean this is impossible.
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
Achilles tendon ruptures can be treated non-operatively or operatively. Both of these treatment approaches have advantages and disadvantages. In general, younger patients with no medical problems may tend to do better with operative treatment, whereas patients with significant medical problems or older age may be best served with non-operative treatment. However, the decision of how the Achilles tendon rupture is treated should be based on each individual patient after the advantages and disadvantages of both treatment options are reviewed. It is important to realize that while Achilles tendon ruptures can be treated either non-operatively or operatively, they must be treated. A neglected Achilles tendon rupture (i.e. one where the tendon ends are not kept opposed) will lead to marked problems of the leg in walking, which may eventually lead to other limb and joint problems. Furthermore, late reconstruction of non-treated Achilles tendon rupture is significantly more complex than timely treatment.
Surgical techniques for rupture repair are varied but usually involve reapproximation of the torn ends of the Achilles tendon, sometimes reinforced by the gastrocsoleus aponeurosis or plantaris tendon. Open reconstruction is undertaken using a medial longitudinal approach. Studies indicate that patients who undergo percutaneous, rather than an open, Achilles tendon rupture repair have a minimal rate of infection but a high rate of sural nerve entrapment (16.7% of treated cases).
The best treatment of Achilles tendonitis is prevention. Stretching the Achilles tendon before exercise, even at the start of the day, will help to maintain ankle flexibility. Problems with foot mechanics can also lead to Achilles tendonitis. This can often be treated with devices inserted into the shoes such as heel cups, arch supports, and custom orthotics.