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.
Your Achilles tendon helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon located within 2 1/2 inches (about 6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section may be predisposed to rupture because it gets less blood flow, which also may impair its ability to heal. Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. Common examples include increasing the intensity of sports participation, especially in sports that involve jumping, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
Often the person feels a whip-like blow that is followed by weakness in the affected leg - usually he or she is not able to walk afterwards. At place where the tendon ruptured, a significant dent is palpable. Often the experienced physician can diagnose a ruptured Achilles tendon by way of clinical examination and special function tests. Imaging techniques, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allow for a more precise diagnosis.
During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect your lower leg for tenderness and swelling. In many cases, doctors can feel a gap in your tendon if it has ruptured completely. The doctor may also ask you to kneel on a chair or lie on your stomach with your feet hanging over the end of the exam table. He or she may then squeeze your calf muscle to see if your foot will automatically flex. If it doesn't, you probably have ruptured your Achilles tendon. If there's a question about the extent of your Achilles tendon injury, whether it's completely or only partially ruptured, your doctor may order an ultrasound or MRI scan. These painless procedures create images of the tissues of your body.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of a ruptured Achilles tendon is usually conservative (non-operative) in a Controlled Motion Ankle (CAM) Boot or it may require surgery. The current consensus based on research is to treat them conservatively since the functional outcome and chance of re-rupture is similar (7% to 15%) using both approaches but surgical intervention has a higher risk of infection. Achilles tendon surgery is usually considered if your Achilles has re-ruptured or there is delay of two weeks between the rupture and the diagnosis and commencement of conservative bracing and treatment.
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.