Complete Achilles tendon ruptures occur most commonly at the mid-substance, but also distally at the insertion site or proximally at the myotendinous junction. These can be traumatic and devastating injuries, resulting in significant pain, disability, and healthcare cost. As many as 2.5 million individuals sustain Achilles tendon ruptures each year and the incidence is rising. This trend is due, in part, to an increase in athletic participation across individuals of all ages.
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.
The pain from an Achilles tendon rupture is usually felt in the back of the lower leg, in the area 2 to 6 cm. above the Achilles tendon's attachment to the calcaneus. Individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture often describe a "pop" or similar feeling at the time of the injury. A "hole" or defect in the Achilles tendon can usually be felt under the skin in this area. A limp and inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot are usually present. If the affected foot does not plantar flex when the calf muscles are squeezed an Achilles tendon rupture is very likely.
An Achilles' tendon injury can be diagnosed by applying the Thompson Test (or Calf Squeeze Test) this is where the person who has suffered the injury lies on their front with their legs bent. Whoever is performing the test, usually a doctor, will then squeeze the calf muscle. If the tendon has not ruptured then the foot should point briefly away from the leg.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor may advise you to rest your leg and keep the tendon immobile in a plaster cast while it heals. Or you may need to have an operation to treat an Achilles tendon rupture. The treatment you have will depend on your individual circumstances, such as your age, general health and how active you are. It will also depend on whether you have partially or completely torn your tendon. If you have a partial tear, it might get better without any treatment. Ask your doctor for advice on the best treatment for you. If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
While it is possible to treat an Achilles tendon rupture without surgery, this is not ideal since the maximum strength of the muscle and tendon rarely returns. The reason is the ends of the tendon are ruptured in a very irregular manner, almost like the ends of a paint brush. As soon as the tendon ruptures, the calf muscle (gastrocnemius muscle) continues to pull on the tendon and the end of the ruptured tendon pulls back into the leg, which is called retraction. Once the tendon retracts, it is never possible to get sufficient strength back without surgery, because the muscle no longer functions at the correct biomechanical length and is now stretched out. There are patients for whom surgery cannot be performed, in particular, due to existing medical conditions that may add to potential for complications following surgery. For these patients, a specially designed boot that positions the foot correctly and takes the pressure and tension off the muscle and tendon is used. Most importantly, a cast is never used because it causes permanent shrinkage (atrophy) of the calf muscle. The special boot permits pressure on the foot with walking. The boot also has a hinge to permit movement of the ankle. Many studies of Achilles tendon ruptures have shown that this movement of the foot in the boot while walking is ideal for tendon healing. If surgery is not recommended, it is essential to obtain special tests to check that the ends of the tendon are lying next to each other so that healing can occur. The best test to do this is an ultrasound and not an MRI.