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.
The Achilles tendon is most commonly injured by sudden plantarflexion or dorsiflexion of the ankle, or by forced dorsiflexion of the ankle outside its normal range of motion. Other mechanisms by which the Achilles can be torn involve sudden direct trauma to the tendon, or sudden activation of the Achilles after atrophy from prolonged periods of inactivity. Some other common tears can occur from overuse while participating in intense sports. Twisting or jerking motions can also contribute to injury. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, famously ciprofloxacin, are known to increase the risk of tendon rupture, particularly achilles.
Symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury are as follows. Pain along the back of your foot and above your heel, especially when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes; with tendinitis, pain may be mild and worsen gradually. If you rupture the tendon, pain can be abrupt and severe. Tenderness. Swelling. Stiffness. Hearing a snapping or popping noise during the injury. Difficulty flexing your foot or pointing your toes (in complete tears of the 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
Once a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture has been confirmed, a referral to an orthopaedic specialist for treatment will be recommended. Treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture aims to facilitate the torn ends of the tendon healing back together again. Treatment may be non-surgical (conservative) or surgical. Factors such as the site and extent of the rupture, the time since the rupture occurred and the preferences of the specialist and patient will be considered when deciding which treatment will be undertaken. Some cases of rupture that have not responded well to non-surgical treatment may require surgery at a later stage. The doctor will immobilise the ankle in a cast or a special hinged splint (known as a ?moon boot?) with the foot in a toes-pointed position. The cast or splint will stay in place for 6 - 8 weeks. The cast will be checked and may be changed during this time.
In general, for complete tear of the tendon, surgery is recommended. For partial tears, nonsurgical treatment is recommended. However, the selection of treatment depends on the patient, age, level of activity, and other risk factors. Surgery for Achilles tendon rupture is now routine and well established. Surgery is generally suggested for the young, healthy and active individuals. For athletes, surgery is often the first choice of treatment. The Achilles tendon can be repaired surgically by either a closed or open technique. With the open technique, an incision is made to allow for better visualization and approximation of the tendon. With the closed technique, the surgeon makes several small skin incisions through which the tendon is repaired. Irrespective of type of treatment, a short leg cast (plaster) is applied on the operated ankle after completion of the procedure. The advantages of a surgical approach includes a decreased risk of re-rupture rate (0%-5%) the majority of individuals can return to their original sporting activities (within a short time), and most regain their strength and endurance. Disadvantages of a surgical approach include hospital admission, wound complications (for example, skin sloughing, infection, sinus tract formation, sural nerve injury), higher costs, and hospital admission.
Prevention centers on appropriate daily Achilles stretching and pre-activity warm-up. Maintain a continuous level of activity in your sport or work up gradually to full participation if you have been out of the sport for a period of time. Good overall muscle conditioning helps maintain a healthy tendon.