The Achilles tendon connects the muscles in the back of your lower leg to your heel bone. It allows you to move your foot down (?step on the gas? motion). This movement is essential for walking, running, and jumping. A sudden strong contraction of the lower leg (such as when playing sports) can partially tear or rupture the Achilles tendon. This injury is more likely if there is prior injury or inflammation of that tendon from prior stress. You may feel a pop or snap, or like you have been kicked. An Achilles tendon tear will cause local swelling and pain and difficulty in walking. A complete Achilles rupture is usually treated with surgery to attach the torn ends of the tendon. This is followed by 6-8 weeks in a walking cast, boot, or splint. Nonsurgical treatment is an option, but it will take longer to heal and the risk of repeat rupture is greater. With either type of treatment, you will need a physical therapy program to strengthen your Achilles tendon. It will take 4-6 months to return to your former level of activity.
Achilles tendon ruptures are most likely to occur in sports requiring sudden stretching, such as sprinting and racquet sports. Achilles tendon ruptures can happen to anyone, but are most likely to occur to middle age athletes who have not been training or who have been doing relatively little training. Common sporting activities related to Achilles tendon rupture include, badminton, tennis, squash. Less common sporting activities that can lead to Achilles tendon rupture include: TKD, soccer etc. Occasionally the sufferer may have a history of having had pain in the Achilles tendon in the past and was treated with steroid injection to around the tendon by a doctor. This can lead to weakening of the tendon predisposing it to complete rupture. Certain antibiotics taken by mouth or by intravenous route can weaken the Achilles tendon predisposing it to rupture. An example would be the quinolone group of antibiotics. An common example is Ciprofloxacin (or Ciprobay).
Tendon strain or tendon inflammation (tendonitis) can occur from tendon injury or overuse and can lead to a rupture. Call your doctor if you have signs of minor tendon problems. Minor tenderness and possible swelling increases with activity. There is usually no specific event causing sudden pain and no obvious gap in the tendon. You can still walk or stand on your toes. Acute calf pain and swelling can indicate a tear or partial tear of the Achilles tendon where it meets the calf muscle. You may still be able to use that foot to walk, but you will need to see a specialist such as an orthopedic surgeon. Surgery is not usually done for partial tears. Sometimes special heel pads or orthotics in your shoes may help. Follow up with your doctor to check for tendonitis or strain before resuming activity, because both can increase the risk of tendon rupture. Any acute injury causing pain, swelling, and difficulty with weight-bearing activities such as standing and walking may indicate you have a tear in your Achilles tendon. Seek prompt medical attention from your doctor or emergency department. Do not delay! Early treatment results in better outcome. If you have any question or uncertainty, get it checked.
A typical history as detailed above together with positive clinical examination usually will clinch the diagnosis. In an acute rupture, one can usually feel the gap in the tendon from the rupture. There may be swelling or bruising around the ankle and foot of the injured leg. With the patient lying on the tummy (prone position) with the knee flexed, the examiner should see the ankle and foot flex downwards (plantarward) when squeezing the calf muscles. If there is no movement in the ankle and foot on squeezing the calf muscle, this implies that the calf muscle is no longer attached to the heel bone due to a complete Achilles tendon rupture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment of Achilles tendon rupture is usually reserved for patients who are relatively sedentary or may be at higher risk for complications with surgical intervention (due to other associated medical problems). This involves a period of immobilization, followed by range of motion and strengthening exercises; unfortunately, it is associated with a higher risk of re-rupture of the tendon, and possibly a less optimal functional outcome.
This condition should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible, because prompt treatment probably improves recovery. You may need to be referred urgently to see a doctor in an orthopaedic department or accident and emergency department. Meanwhile, if a ruptured Achilles tendon is suspected, you should not put any weight on that foot, so do not walk on it at all. A new piece of research found that surgery and conservative treatment actually gave equally good results, when patients were also given early mobilisation treatment using a brace. If an operation is needed, there is a type of surgery called percutaneous, which uses smaller cuts than the traditional operation. This seems to reduce the risk of getting a wound infection. After surgery, a brace seems to be better than a plaster cast in terms of faster recovery and return to normal activities, a lower complication rate and patient preferences.