A rupture of the Achilles tendon means that there has been either a complete, or partial, tear of the tendon which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Usually this occurs just above insertion on the heel bone, although it can happen anywhere along the course of the tendon. Achilles tendon rupture occurs in people that engage in strenuous activity, who are usually sedentary and have weakened tendons, or in people who have had previous chronic injury to their Achilles tendons. Previous injury to the tendon can be caused by overuse, improper stretching habits, worn-out or improperly fitting shoes, or poor biomechanics (flat-feet). The risk of tendon rupture is also increased with the use of quinolone antibiotics (e.g. ciprofloxacin, Levaquin).
The Achilles tendon is a strong bands of fibrous connective tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. When the muscle contracts, the tendon transmits the power of this contraction to the heel bone, producing movement. The Achilles tendon ruptures because the load applied to it is greater than the tendon's ability to withstand that load. This usually occurs as a result of a sudden, quick movement where there is a forceful stretch of the tendon or a contraction of the muscles eg: jumping, sprinting, or pushing off to serve in tennis. This occurs most often in sports that require a lot of stopping and starting (acceleration-deceleration sports) such as tennis, basketball, netball and squash. The Achilles tendon is on average 15cm in length. Most ruptures occur 2-6cm above where the tendon inserts into the heel bone. This is the narrowest portion of the Achilles tendon and is also the area with the poorest blood supply. achilles tendon rupture is most common when the muscles and tendon have not been adequately stretched and warmed up prior to exercise, or when the muscles are fatigued. the Achilles tendon has a poor blood supply, which makes it susceptible to injury and slow to heal after injury. During exercise the amount of blood able to travel to the tendon is decreased, further increasing the risk of rupture. Most experts agree that there are no warning signs of an impending rupture. However, frequent episodes of Achilles tendonitis (tendon inflammation) can weaken the tendon and make it more susceptible to rupture.
Patients who suffer an acute rupture of the Achilles tendon often report hearing a ?pop?or ?snap.? Patients usually have severe pain the back of the lower leg near the heel. This may or may not be accompanied by swelling. Additionally, because the function of the Achilles tendon is to enable plantarflexion (bending the foot downward), patients often have difficulty walking or standing up on their toes. With a complete rupture of the tendon, the foot will not move. In cases where the diagnosis is equivocal, your physician may order an MRI of the leg to diagnose a rupture of the Achilles tendon.
The diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is made entirely on physical examination. Often, there is a substantial defect in the Achilles from 2-5 cm before it inserts into the heel bone. However, the main test is to determine whether the Achilles has been ruptured is the Thompson test. This essentially involves placing the patient on their stomach and squeezing the calf muscle. If the Achilles is intact, the foot will rise [plantar flex]. If it is ruptured, the foot will not move and will tend to be in a lower lying position.
Non Surgical Treatment
Two treatment options are casting or surgery. If an Achilles tendon rupture is untreated then it may not heal properly and could lead to loss of strength. Decisions about treatment options should be made on an individual basis. Non-surgical management traditionally is selected for minor ruptures, less active patients, and those with medical conditions that prevent them from undergoing surgery. The goal of casting is to allow the tendon to slowly heal over time. The foot and ankle are positioned to bring the torn ends of the tendon close together. Casting or bracing for up to 12 weeks or more may be necessary. This method can be effective and avoids some risks, such as infection, associated with surgery. However, the likelihood of re-rupture may be higher with a non-surgical approach and recovery can take longer.
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 weight bearing. Complications such as incision-healing difficulties re-rupture of the tendon, or nerve pain can arise after surgery.