The Achilles' tendon is located in the leg just behind and above the heel. As the connection between the heel and calf muscle, its function is to allow the bending of the foot downwards. Generally if there is a tear to the Achilles' tendon it will be known as a rupture. This can be a partial tear or a complete tear, although partial tears are much rarer.
As with any muscle or tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon can be torn if there is a high force or stress on it. This can happen with activities which involve a forceful push off with the foot, for example, in football, running, basketball, diving, and tennis. The push off movement uses a strong contraction of the calf muscles which can stress the Achilles tendon too much. The Achilles tendon can also be damaged by injuries such as falls, if the foot is suddenly forced into an upward-pointing position, this movement stretches the tendon. Another possible injury is a deep cut at the back of the ankle, which might go into the tendon. Sometimes the Achilles tendon is weak, making it more prone to rupture. Factors that weaken the Achilles tendon are as follows. Corticosteroid medication (such as prednisolone) - mainly if it is used as long-term treatment rather than a short course. Corticosteroid injection near the Achilles tendon. Certain rare medical conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome, where the body makes too much of its own corticosteroid hormones. Increasing age. Tendonitis (inflammation) of the Achilles tendon. Other medical conditions which can make the tendon more prone to rupture; for example, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus. Certain antibiotic medicines may slightly increase the risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture. These are the quinolone antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin. The risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture with these antibiotics is actually very low, and mainly applies if you are also taking corticosteroid medication or are over the age of about 60.
Symptoms include a sudden sharp pain in the achilles tendon which is often described as if being physically struck by an object or implement. A loud snapping noise or bang may also be heard at the time. A gap of 4 to 5 cm in the tendon can be felt which may be less obvious later as swelling increases. After a short while the athlete may be able to walk again but without the power to push off with the foot. There will be a significant loss of strength in the injured leg and the patient will be unable to stand on tip toes. There may be considerable swelling around the achilles tendon and a positive result for Thompson's test can help confirm the diagnosis.
If an Achilles tendon rupture is suspected, it is important to consult a doctor straight away so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment recommended. Until a doctor can be consulted it is important to let the foot hang down with the toes pointed to the ground. This prevents the ends of the ruptured tendon pulling any farther apart. The doctor will take a full medical history, including any previous Achilles tendon injuries and what activity was being undertaken at the time the present injury occurred. The doctor will also conduct a physical examination and will check for swelling, tenderness and range of movement in the lower leg and foot. A noticeable gap may be able to be felt in the tendon at the site of the rupture. This is most obvious just after the rupture has occurred and swelling will eventually make this gap difficult to feel. One test commonly used to confirm an Achilles tendon rupture is the Thomson test. For this test the patient lies face down on an examination table. The doctor then squeezes the calf muscles; an action that would normally cause the foot to point like a ballerina (plantar flexion). When a partial rupture has occurred the foot's ability to point may be decreased. When a complete rupture has occurred, the foot may not point at all. Ultrasound scanning of the Achilles tendon may also be recommended in order to assist with the diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of a ruptured Achilles tendon is usually conservative (non-operative) in a Controlled Motion Ankle (CAM) Boot or it may require surgery. The current consensus based on research is to treat them conservatively since the functional outcome and chance of re-rupture is similar (7% to 15%) using both approaches but surgical intervention has a higher risk of infection. Achilles tendon surgery is usually considered if your Achilles has re-ruptured or there is delay of two weeks between the rupture and the diagnosis and commencement of conservative bracing and treatment.
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.