The Achilles tendon is the large cord like structure on the back of the leg just above the heel. It is the largest tendon in the body and has a tremendous amount of force transmitted through it during walking, running and jumping activities. The Achilles tendon is prone to injury, including rupture during periods of increased stress and activity. Common activities causing injury include running, basketball, baseball, football, soccer, volleyball and tennis. These activities require jumping and pushing forces that are possible due to the strength of the calf musculature and the ability of the Achilles tendon to endure this stress. Men from the ages of 30-50 are the most commonly injured during weekend athletic activities.
Your Achilles tendon helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon located within 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section may be predisposed to rupture because it gets less blood flow, which may impair its ability to heal. Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. Common examples include increasing the intensity of sports participation, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
Patients often describe a feeling of being kicked or hit with a baseball bat in the back of the heel during athletic activity. They are unable to continue the activity and have an extreme loss of strength with the inability to effectively walk. On physical examination there is often a defect that can be felt in the tendon just above the heel. A diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is commonly made on physical exam. An MRI may be ordered to confirm the suspicion of a tear or to determine the extent of the tear.
In order to diagnose Achilles tendon rupture a doctor or physiotherapist will give a full examination of the area and sometimes an X ray is performed in order to confirm the diagnosis. A doctor may also recommend an MRI or CT scan is used to rule out any further injury or complications.
Non Surgical Treatment
Pain medicines can help decrease pain and swelling. A cast may be needed for 2 months or more. Your foot will be positioned in the cast with your toes pointing slightly down. Your caregiver will change your cast and your foot position several times while the tendon heals. Do not move or put weight on your foot until your caregiver tells you it is okay. A leg brace or splint may be needed to help keep your foot from moving while your tendon heals. Heel lifts are wedges put into your shoe or cast. Heel lifts help decrease pressure and keep your foot in the best position for your tendon to heal. Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. The edges of your tendon may need to be stitched back together. You may need a graft to patch the tear. A graft is a piece of another tendon or artificial material.
A completely ruptured Achilles tendon requires surgery and up to 12 weeks in a cast. Partial tears are sometimes are treated with surgery following by a cast. Because the tendon shortens as it heals, a heel lift is used for 6 months or more after the cast comes off. Physical therapy to regain flexibility and then strength are begun as soon as the cast is off.
To help reduce your chance of getting Achilles tendon rupture, take the following steps. Do warm-up exercises before an activity and cool down exercises after an activity. Wear proper footwear. Maintain a healthy weight. Rest if you feel pain during an activity. Change your routine. Switch between high-impact activities and low-impact activities. Strengthen your calf muscle with exercises.