Achilles tendon rupture is an injury that affects the back of your lower leg. It most commonly occurs in people playing recreational sports. The Achilles tendon is a strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. If you overstretch your Achilles tendon, it can tear (rupture). The tendon can rupture completely or just partially. If you have an Achilles tendon rupture, you might feel a pop or snap, followed by an immediate sharp pain in the back of your ankle and lower leg that usually affects your ability to walk properly. Surgery is often the best treatment option to repair an Achilles tendon rupture. For many people, however, nonsurgical treatment works just as well.
An Achilles tendon rupture is often caused by overstretching the tendon. This typically occurs during intense physical activity, such as running or playing basketball. Pushing off from the foot while the knee is straight, pivoting, jumping, and running are all movements that can overstretch the Achilles tendon and cause it to rupture. A rupture can also occur as the result of trauma that causes an over-stretching of the tendon, such as suddenly tripping or falling from a significant height. The Achilles tendon is particularly susceptible to injury if it is already weak. Therefore, individuals who have a history of tendinitis or tendinosis are more prone to a tendon rupture. Similarly, individuals who have arthritis and overcompensate for their joint pain by putting more stress on the Achilles tendon may also be more susceptible to an Achilles tendon rupture.
The most common symptom of Achilles tendonitis is a sudden surge of pain in the heel and back of the ankle at the point of injury which is often described as a snapping sensation in the heel. After the injury has occurred, patients then struggle or find it near impossible to bear any weight on the affected leg. Pain can often be most prominent first thing in the morning after the injury has been rested. Swelling and tenderness is also likely to appear in the area.
A physician usually can make this diagnosis with a good physical examination and history. X-rays usually are not taken. A simple test of squeezing the calf muscles while lying on your stomach should indicate if the tendon is still connected (the foot should point). This test isolates the connection between the calf muscle and tendon and eliminates other tendons that may still allow weak movement. A word of caution, Achilles tendon rupture is often misdiagnosed as a strain or minor tendon injury. Swelling and the continuing ability to weakly point your toes can confuse the diagnosis. Ultrasound and MRI are tests that can assist in difficult diagnosis. Depending on the degree of injury, these tests can also assist in determining which treatment may be best.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment typically involves wearing a brace or cast for the first six weeks following the injury to allow time for the ends of the torn tendon to reattach on their own. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may be taken during this time to reduce pain and swelling. Once the tendon has reattached, physical therapy will be needed to strengthen the muscles and tendon. A full recovery is usually made within four to six months.
Immediate surgical repair of the tendon is indicated in complete tears. Delaying surgery can lead to shortening of the tendon, formation of scar tissue and decreased blood flow, which can lead to a poor outcome. Following surgery your ankle will be put in an immobilizing device and you will be instructed to use crutches to limit weight bearing and protect the joint. Over the next 2-4 weeks weight bearing will be increased and physical therapy will be initiated. The surgeon will determine the physical therapy timeline and program. Physical Therapy, Treatment will emphasize gradual weaning off the immobilizing device, increased weight bearing, restoration of ankle range of motion and strengthening of the lower leg muscles. It is important that the physician and therapist communicate during the early stages and progress your program based on the principles of healing so as not to compromise the Achilles tendon. Patient will be progressed to more functional activities as normal ankle range of motion and strength is restored.
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