The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body. It plays a very important role in most sport activities and is particularly vulnerable to overloading from repetitive running and jumping. The Achilles tendon forms a joint distal tendon for the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles. These muscles combine to form the triceps surae muscle. Athletes who sustain Achilles tendon ruptures most frequently are those who participate in ball sports that demand rapid changes of direction and quick, reactive jumps (e.g., tennis, squash, badminton, and soccer), in addition to runners and jumpers in track and field. Sometimes a patient with a ruptured tendon has a history of long-term pain localized to the tendon, but more often the rupture occurs without warning. Such ruptures are often caused by degenerative changes in the tendon (tendinosis), usually in the segment of the tendon that has the worst blood supply. This segment extends from 2 to 6 cm proximal to the insertion of the tendon onto the calcaneus.
Ruptured Achilles tendons may result from falling from a height or down a hole. Increasing training intensity abruptly, boosting distance, frequency or duration by more than 10% a week. Failing to stretch before and after exercise. Repetitive training, especially uphill running. Deyhydration, which causes cramping and tightness in the calves. Taking antibiotics. Improper footwear. Explosive movements in competitive sports like basketball, soccer or track & field.
If the Achilles tendon is ruptured you may experience a sudden pain in the back of your leg, as if someone had kicked you, followed by, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty to stand on tiptoe and push the leg when walking. A popping or snapping sound may be heard when the injury occurs. You may also feel a gap or depression in the tendon, just above heel bone. Ruptures usually occurs in those aged 30 - 70 years, during a sudden forceful push off from the foot. Without proper healing of the tendon, you will have a permanent limp and weakness when using the leg.
Other less serious causes of pain in the back of the lower leg include Achilles tendonitis or bursitis. To distinguish between these possibilities, your physician will take a thorough history and examine your lower leg to look for signs of a rupture. The presence of a defect in the tendon that can be felt, evidence of weakness with plantarflexion, and a history consistent with Achilles tendon rupture are usually sufficient for diagnosis. Your physician may also perform a Thompson test, which consists of squeezing the calf muscles of the affected leg. With an intact Achilles tendon, the foot will bend downward; however, 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.
Non Surgical Treatment
Nonsurgical treatment involves extended casting, special braces, orthotics, and physical therapy. Avoids the normal complications and expenses of surgery. Some studies show the outcome is similar to surgery in regard to strength and function. There is risk of an over-lengthened tendon with inadequate tension. Extended immobilization can lead to more muscle weakness. Nonsurgical treatment has a higher incidence of re-rupture than surgical repair. Nonsurgical treatment is often used for nonathletes or for those with a general low level of physical activity who would not benefit from surgery. The elderly and those with complicating medical conditions should also consider conservative nonsurgical treatment.
Referral to a surgeon for open or percutaneous repair of the tendon is often necessary, followed by an immobilisation period. Functional bracing and early mobilisation are becoming more widely used postoperatively. There is no definitive protocol for this and it may differ, depending on the surgeon. Operative treatment has a reduced chance of re-rupture compared with conservative treatment (3.5% versus 12.6%) and a higher percentage of patients returning to the same level of sporting activity (57% versus 29%). The patient's desired functional outcome and comorbidities that affect healing will be factors in the decision to operate.