The Achilles tendon is the tough sinew that attaches the calf muscle to the back of the calcaneus, or heel bone. It is also known as the tendo calcaneus or the tendo Achilles and happens to be one of the longest tendons in the body. An Achilles tendon rupture occurs when the Achilles tendon is partially or completely broken or torn. The average age of patients who suffer Achilles tendon ruptures is 30 to 40 years. The male-to-female ratio is nearly 20 to 1.
Common causes of an Achilles tendon rupture include the progression of or the final result of longstanding Achilles tendonitis or an overuse injury. An injury to the ankle or a direct blow to the Achilles tendon. As a result of a fall where an individual lands awkwardly or directly on the ankle. Laceration of the tendon. Weakness of the gastrocnemius or soleus muscles in people with existing Achilles tendonitis places increased stress on the tendon. Steroid use has been linked to tendon weakness. Certain systemic diseases have been associated with tendon weakness. A sudden deceleration or stopping motions that cause an acute traumatic injury of the ankle. Injection of steroids to the involved tendon or the excessive use of steroids has been known to weaken tendons and make them susceptible to rupture. Contraction of the calf muscles while the foot is dorsiflexed (pointed toward the head) and the lower leg is moving forward.
Ankle pain and swelling or feeling like the ankle has ?given out? after falling or stumbling. A loud audible pop when the ankle is injured. Patients may have a history of prior ankle pain or Achilles tendonitis, and may be active in sports. Swelling, tenderness and possible discoloration or ecchymosis in the Achilles tendon region. Indentation above the injured tendon where the torn tendon may be present. Difficulty moving around or walking. Individual has difficulty or is unable to move their ankle with full range of motion. MRI can confirm disruption or tear in the tendon. Inability to lift the toes.
It is usually possible to detect a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon on the history and examination. A gap may be felt in the tendon, usually 4-5cm above the heel bone. This is the normal site of injury and is called an intra-substance tear. The tear can occur higher up about 10cm above the insertion into the heel at the site where the muscles join the tendon, this is known as a musculo-tendinous tear. A special test will be performed which involves squeezing the calf. Normally if the Achilles tendon is intact this causes the foot to point downwards but if it is ruptured it causes no movement. To confirm the diagnosis and the exact site of the rupture it may be necessary to perform an Ultra-sound or MRI scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are two treatment options available which are non-operative and operative. Non-operative treatment involves the use initially of a below-knee plaster with the foot held fully bent downwards. This usually stays in place for 2 weeks then is changed for a brace(this is a boot from the knee down to the toes with Velcro straps) which should be worn day and night. The brace will be regularly altered to allow the foot to come up to a more neutral position. The brace will be on for a further 6 weeks. After the 8 weeks you will be referred for physiotherapy to regain movement and calf strength but will probably need to wear the brace during the day for a further 4 weeks. Non-operative treatment avoids the risks of surgery but the risk of the tendon re-rupturing, which normally occurs within 3 months of discarding the brace, is 10%.
Surgery is recommended to those who are young to middle-aged and active. The ruptured tendon is sewn together during surgery. This is an outpatient procedure. Afterward the leg is put into a splint cast or walking boot. Physical therapy will be recommended. In about 4 to 6 months, healing is nearly complete. However, it can take up to a year to return to sports fully.