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The Facts Concerning Ruptured Achilles Tendons

Overview

An Achilles tendon rupture is a tear in the strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. The tendon can rupture partially or completely. Your Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body and plays a critical role. In fact, you rely on it every time you move your foot. The tendon helps you point your foot down, rise on your toes and push off as you walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is a serious injury. If you suspect you have torn your Achilles - especially if you hear a pop or snap in your heel and cannot walk properly - seek medical attention immediately.


Causes
The tendon usually ruptures without any warning. It is most common in men between the ages of 40-50, who play sports intermittently, such as badminton and squash. There was probably some degeneration in the tendon before the rupture which may or may not have been causing symptoms.


Symptoms
A sudden and severe pain may be felt at the back of the ankle or calf, often described as “being hit by a rock or shot” or “like someone stepped onto the back of my ankle.” The sound of a loud pop or snap may be reported. A gap or depression may be felt and seen in the tendon about 2 inches above the heel bone. Initial pain, swelling, and stiffness may be followed by bruising and weakness. The pain may decrease quickly, and smaller tendons may retain the ability to point the toes. Without the Achilles tendon, though, this would be very difficult. Standing on tiptoe and pushing off when walking will be impossible. A complete tear is more common than a partial tear.


Diagnosis
Your doctor diagnoses the rupture based on symptoms, history of the injury and physical examination. Your doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles, if the Achilles tendon is intact, there will be flexion movement of the foot, if it is ruptured, there will be no movement observed.


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.


Surgical Treatment
The best treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon in an active individual is typically surgery. While an Achilles rupture can sometimes be treated with a cast, splint, brace, or other device that will keep your lower leg from moving, surgery provides less chance that the tendon will rupture again and offers more strength and a shorter recovery period. Surgery may be delayed for a period of a week after the rupture, to let the swelling go down. There are two types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon and both involve the surgeon sewing the tendon back together through the incision. Open surgery, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the back of the leg. Percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes a number of small incisions rather than one large incision. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue, the repair may be reinforced with other tendons.


Prevention
To help prevent an Achilles tendon injury, it is a good practice to perform stretching and warm-up exercises before any participating in any activities. Gradually increase the intensity and length of time of activity. Muscle conditioning may help to strengthen the muscles in the body.

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