An Achilles tendon rupture is when part or all of your tendon is torn. The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle in your lower leg to your heel bone. It allows you to point your foot down and to rise on your toes. A tear is caused by an injury or increased pressure, such as during sports or a fall. The following may make your Achilles tendon weak or stiff, and more likely to tear. A past tendon tear. Lack of physical activity. Abnormal bone structure in your foot. Obesity. Older age. Medicines, such as steroids and antibiotics.
The most common cause of a ruptured Achilles’ tendon is when too much stress is placed through the tendon, particularly when pushing off with the foot. This may happen when playing sports such as football, basketball or tennis where the foot is dorsiflexed or pushed into an upward position during a fall. If the Achilles’ tendon is weak, it is prone to rupture. Various factors can cause weakness, including corticosteroid medication and injections, certain diseases caused by hormone imbalance and tendonitis. Old age can also increase the risk of Achilles’ tendon rupture.
The pain from an Achilles tendon rupture is usually felt in the back of the lower leg, in the area 2 to 6 cm. above the Achilles tendon’s attachment to the calcaneus. Individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture often describe a “pop” or similar feeling at the time of the injury. A “hole” or defect in the Achilles tendon can usually be felt under the skin in this area. A limp and inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot are usually present. If the affected foot does not plantar flex when the calf muscles are squeezed an Achilles tendon rupture is very likely.
On physical examination the area will appear swollen and ecchymotic, which may inhibit the examiners ability to detect a palpable defect. The patient will be unable to perform a single heel raise. To detect the presence of a complete rupture the Thompson test can be performed. The test is done by placing the patient prone on the examination table with the knee flexed to 90?, which allows gravity and the resting tension of the triceps surae to increase the dorsiflexion at the ankle. The calf muscle is squeezed by the examiner and a lack of planar flexion is noted in positive cases. It is important to note that active plantar flexion may still be present in the face of a complete rupture due to the secondary flexor muscles of the foot. It has been reported that up to 25% of patients may initially be missed in the emergency department due to presence of active plantar flexion and swelling over the Achilles tendon, which makes palpation of a defect difficult.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-operative treatment consists of placing the foot in a downward position [equinus] and providing relative immobilization of the foot in this position until the Achilles has healed. This typically involves some type of stable bracing or relative immobilization for 6 weeks, often with limited or no weight bearing. The patient can then be transitioned to a boot with a heel lift and then gradually increase their activity level within the boot. It is very important that the status of the Achilles is monitored throughout non-operative treatment. This can be done by examination or via ultrasound. If there is evidence of gapping or non-healing, surgery may need to be considered. Formal protocols have been developed to help optimize non-operative treatments and excellent results have been reported with these protocols. The focus of these treatments is to ensure that the Achilles rupture is in continuity and is healing in a satisfactory manner. The primary advantage of non-operative treatment is that without an incision in this area, there are no problems with wound healing or infection. Wound infection following Achilles tendon surgery can be a devastating complication and therefore, for many patients, non-operative treatment should be contemplated. The main disadvantage of non-operative treatment is that the recovery is probably slower. On average, the main checkpoints of recovery occur 3-4 weeks quicker with operative treatment than with non-operative treatment. In addition, the re-rupture rate appears to be higher with some non-operative treatments. Re-rupture typically occurs 8-18 months after the original injury.
Surgery may be indicated directly following injury rather than conservative care. Repair of an achilles tendon rupture is greatly varied for each clinical situation. There may be a direct repair of the ends of the tendon with suture, or possibly a tendon graft used to augment the tendon. Post-operatively, the period of immobilization will depend on the size of the defect that was repaired and how it was completed. Usually the immobilization is between 6-10 weeks. This repair may allow for a complete return to normal function, but in many instances the healing is complicated with adhesions and a partial loss of range of motion. There may be a continued soft tissue defect noted and a permanent or prolonged swelling.