The Achilles tendon is the soft tissue located in the heel which connects calf muscle to the heel bone allowing the body to perform certain activities such as rising on the tip toes and pushing off when running or walking. Achilles tendon tears occur when the tendon becomes torn through excessive pressure put on the area which the tendon is unable to withstand. Tears are most commonly found when suddenly accelerating from a standing position and therefore is often seen in runners and athletes involved in racquet sports. A tear can also occur when a continuous force is being put on the heel through prolonged levels of activity and overuse however this can also occur as a result of sudden impact or force to the area common in contact sports such as rugby and hockey. Although Achilles tendon tears can range in their severity, a rupture is the most serious form of tear and involves a completely torn tendon. This injury is more common in patients in their 30?s and 40?s.
Often the individual will feel or hear a pop or a snap when the injury occurs. There is immediate swelling and severe pain in the back of the heel, below the calf where it ruptures. Pain is usually severe enough that it is difficult or impossible to walk or take a step. The individual will not be able to push off or go on their toes.
Typically patients present with sudden onset of pain and swelling in the achilles region, often accompanied by a audible snap during forceful dorsiflexion of the foot. A classic example is that of an unfit 'weekend warrior' playing squash. If complete a defect may be felt and the patient will have only minimal plantar flexion against resistance.
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
Not every torn Achilles tendon needs an operation. Recent studies have shown that even a conservative treatment, i.e. immobilizingt the leg can lead to satisfactory healing successes. This requires, however, that the patient is fitted with a cast (immobilization splint) and/or a special boot for a period of approximately 6 - 8 weeks. After that, the boot must be worn during the day for about two more weeks. An intensive physiotherapy will start after about six weeks to train the calf muscles so that the initial coordination can be restored. Running training on flat ground can be started again after another 10 - 12 weeks. Studies show that the danger of a recurring torn tendon is higher after a conservative treatment opposed to an operative treatment. Depending on the type of treatment, about 10 - 15 percent of those affected can expect at some point to again suffer from a tear of the Achilles tendon. Moreover, in the non-operated cases, we see more often a significant permanent weakness of the footprint, particularly restricting the ability to participate in sports.
Thanks to a new surgical technique, operative procedures are often more beneficial.The operative treatment of Achilles tendon ruptures has significantly changed in recent years. The objective today is to connect the torn tendons using modern suture and possibly adhesive materials. Through small surgical incisions the ends of the torn tendon are surgically exposed, and sutures are used to tie the ends permanently together. Thus, the operated repaired tendon is again resilient within a reasonable time. The cast treatment and walking on crutches required in the past, is with this procedure usually not necessary. Instead, functional treatment following the surgery involves wearing a special boot, meaning that the patient can put weight onto the operated leg again within a few days after surgery. Physical therapy training will start immediately following the operation. The philosophy behind such an early functional treatment is that tissue adequately adapts to stress and thus accelerates the healing process. For the patient, the modern surgical treatment of an Achilles tendon rupture has the distinct advantage that no prolonged hospital stay is necessary. Hospital stay usually lasts only a few days. Using crutches, patients can return to work soon after the surgery.