Rupture of the Achilles tendon is a common injury in healthy, young, active individuals. The rupture is typically spontaneous and most commonly observed in individuals in between 24-45 years of age. The majority have had no prior history of pain or previous injury to the heel. In the majority of cases, rupture of the Achilles tendon occurs just a few centimeters above the heel bone. Common causes of Achilles tendinitis or rupture include advanced age, poor conditioning, and overexertion during exercise. In most cases, the individual rapidly performs activity like running or standing on the toes, which generates intense force on the tendon, leading to rupture. Achilles tendon rupture is often described as an abrupt break with instantaneous pain that is felt in the foot or heel area. The pain may radiate along the back of the leg and is often intense. Generally, walking may be difficult and the foot may drag. Most individuals claim that they felt like they were kicked in that area or even shot at. These symptoms lead to a suspicion of rupture of the Achilles tendon. Sometimes the tendon does not fully rupture but only a partial tear develops. The partial tear can also present with pain, and if not recognized, can rapidly develop into a full-blown rupture. In the majority of cases, the Achilles tendon rupture occurs just above the heel, but it may occur anywhere along the length of the tendon.
An Achilles tendon injury might be caused by several factors. Overuse. Stepping up your level of physical activity too quickly. Wearing high heels, which increases the stress on the tendon. Problems with the feet, an Achilles tendon injury can result from flat feet, also known as fallen arches or overpronation. In this condition, the impact of a step causes the arch of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons. Muscles or tendons in the leg that are too tight. Achilles tendon injuries are common in people who participate in the following sports. Running. Gymnastics. Dance. Football. Baseball. Softball. Basketball. Tennis. Volleyball. You are more likely to tear an Achilles tendon when you start moving suddenly. For instance, a sprinter might get one at the start of a race. The abrupt tensing of the muscle can be too much for the tendon to handle. Men older than age 30 are particularly prone to Achilles tendon injuries.
Whereas calf strains and tendonitis may cause tightness or pain in the leg, Achilles tendon ruptures are typically accompanied by a popping sensation and noise at the time of the injury. In fact, some patients joke that the popping sound was loud enough to make them think they?d been shot. Seeing a board-certified orthopedic surgeon is the best way to determine whether you have suffered an Achilles tendon tear.
The diagnosis is usually made on the basis of symptoms, the history of the injury and a doctor?s examination.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-operative treatment consists of placing the foot in a downward position [equinus] and providing relative immobilization of the foot in this position until the Achilles has healed. This typically involves some type of stable bracing or relative immobilization for 6 weeks, often with limited or no weight bearing. The patient can then be transitioned to a boot with a heel lift and then gradually increase their activity level within the boot. It is very important that the status of the Achilles is monitored throughout non-operative treatment. This can be done by examination or via ultrasound. If there is evidence of gapping or non-healing, surgery may need to be considered. Formal protocols have been developed to help optimize non-operative treatments and excellent results have been reported with these protocols. The focus of these treatments is to ensure that the Achilles rupture is in continuity and is healing in a satisfactory manner. The primary advantage of non-operative treatment is that without an incision in this area, there are no problems with wound healing or infection. Wound infection following Achilles tendon surgery can be a devastating complication and therefore, for many patients, non-operative treatment should be contemplated. The main disadvantage of non-operative treatment is that the recovery is probably slower. On average, the main checkpoints of recovery occur 3-4 weeks quicker with operative treatment than with non-operative treatment. In addition, the re-rupture rate appears to be higher with some non-operative treatments. Re-rupture typically occurs 8-18 months after the original injury.
This injury is often treated surgically. Surgical care adds the risks of surgery, there are for you to view. After the surgery, the cast and aftercare is typically as follows. A below-knee cast (from just below the knee to the tips of the toes) is applied. The initial cast may be applied with your foot positioned in a downward direction to allow the ends of the tendon to lie closer together for initial healing. You may be brought back in 2-3 week intervals until the foot can be positioned at 90 degrees to the leg in the cast. The first 6 weeks in the cast are typically non-weight bearing with crutches or other suitable device to assist with the non-weight bearing requirement. After 6 weeks in the non-removable cast, a removable walking cast is started. The removable walking cast can be removed for therapy, sleeping and bathing. The period in the removable walking cast may need to last for an additional 2-6 weeks. Your doctor will review a home physical therapy program with you (more on this program later) that will typically start not long after your non-removable cast is removed. Your doctor may also refer you for formal physical therapy appointments. Typically, weight bearing exercise activities are kept restricted for at least 4 months or more. Swimming or stationary cycling activities may be allowed sooner. Complete healing may take 12 months or more.