Rupture of the Achilles tendon is a common injury in healthy, young, active individuals. The rupture is typically spontaneous and most commonly observed in individuals in between 24-45 years of age. The majority have had no prior history of pain or previous injury to the heel. In the majority of cases, rupture of the Achilles tendon occurs just a few centimeters above the heel bone. Common causes of Achilles tendinitis or rupture include advanced age, poor conditioning, and overexertion during exercise. In most cases, the individual rapidly performs activity like running or standing on the toes, which generates intense force on the tendon, leading to rupture. Achilles tendon rupture is often described as an abrupt break with instantaneous pain that is felt in the foot or heel area. The pain may radiate along the back of the leg and is often intense. Generally, walking may be difficult and the foot may drag. Most individuals claim that they felt like they were kicked in that area or even shot at. These symptoms lead to a suspicion of rupture of the Achilles tendon. Sometimes the tendon does not fully rupture but only a partial tear develops. The partial tear can also present with pain, and if not recognized, can rapidly develop into a full-blown rupture. In the majority of cases, the Achilles tendon rupture occurs just above the heel, but it may occur anywhere along the length of the tendon.
Often the individual will feel or hear a pop or a snap when the injury occurs. There is immediate swelling and severe pain in the back of the heel, below the calf where it ruptures. Pain is usually severe enough that it is difficult or impossible to walk or take a step. The individual will not be able to push off or go on their toes.
Patients who suffer an acute rupture of the Achilles tendon often report hearing a ?pop?or ?snap.? Patients usually have severe pain the back of the lower leg near the heel. This may or may not be accompanied by swelling. Additionally, because the function of the Achilles tendon is to enable plantarflexion (bending the foot downward), patients often have difficulty walking or standing up on their toes. With a complete rupture of the tendon, the foot will not move. In cases where the diagnosis is equivocal, your physician may order an MRI of the leg to diagnose a rupture of the Achilles tendon.
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
You may need to wear a plaster cast, brace or boot on your lower leg for six to eight weeks to help the tendon heal. During this time, your doctor will change the cast a number of times to make sure your tendon heals in the right way. If your tendon is partially ruptured, your doctor will probably advise you to have this treatment instead of surgery. It?s also suitable for people who aren't very physically active. However, there is a greater risk that your tendon will rupture again, compared with surgery. Your doctor will advise you which treatment is best for you.
There are two different types of surgeries; open surgery and percutaneous surgery. During an open surgery an incision is made in the back of the leg and the Achilles tendon is stitched together. In a complete or serious rupture the tendon of plantaris or another vestigial muscle is harvested and wrapped around the Achilles tendon, increasing the strength of the repaired tendon. If the tissue quality is poor, e.g. the injury has been neglected, the surgeon might use a reinforcement mesh (collagen, Artelon or other degradable material). In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions, rather than one large incision, and sews the tendon back together through the incision(s). Surgery may be delayed for about a week after the rupture to let the swelling go down. For sedentary patients and those who have vasculopathy or risks for poor healing, percutaneous surgical repair may be a better treatment choice than open surgical repair.