The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects your calf muscles to your heel bone and is used when you walk, run, and jump. Although the Achilles tendon can withstand great stresses from running and jumping, it is vulnerable to injury. A rupture of the tendon is a tearing and separation of the tendon fibers so that the tendon can no longer perform its normal function.
Inflammation/strain of the tendon is usually caused by overuse, for example, frequent jumping in volleyball, netball or basketball. It is often also caused by a sudden increase in certain types of training, such as hill sprinting or track running, particularly when running in spikes. Tendinopathy can also be associated with ageing. Our ability to regenerate damaged tissue decreases as we age and the quality of the tendon deteriorates. However, the better news is that sensible training can actually strengthen all our soft tissue (tendons, ligaments and muscle). Tightness in the calf muscles will demand greater flexibility of the tendon, which inevitably results in overuse and injury. Biomechanically, the tightness can reduce the range of dorsiflexion (toe up position) in the ankle, which increases the amount and duration of pronation. This problem is known as overpronation.* This reduces the ability of the foot to become a rigid lever at push off and places more lateral and linear forces through the tendon. This imbalance can translate into altered rotation of the tibia (shin bone) at the knee joint and, in turn, produce compensatory rotation at the hip joint with subsequent injuries to the shin, knee and hip. Pronation is part of the natural movement of the subtalar joint in the foot. It allows ?eversion? (turning the sole outwards), dorsiflexion and abduction (pointing the toes out to the side). Pronation is a normal part of the gait cycle, when walking and running, and it helps to provide shock absorption in the foot. When pronation is excessive, the foot has a tendency to roll inward more than normally acceptable. One sign of overpronation is greater wear on the inside of your running shoes than on the midsole. Lack of stability around the ankle joint can also be a contributory factor, as recurrent ankle sprains appear to be associated with a high incidence of Achilles tendonopathy. Wearing shoes that don?t fit or support the foot properly can be a major contributing cause of Achilles tendon injury.
Many people say that a ruptured Achilles feels like ?being shot in the heel?, if you can imagine how enjoyable that feels. You may hear a snap sound or feel a sudden sharp pain when the tendon tears. After a few moments, the pain settles and the back of the lower leg aches. You can walk and bear weight, but you may find it difficult to point the foot downward or push off the ground on the affected side. You will be unable to stand on tiptoe. Bruising and swelling are likely, and persistent pain will be present. Similar symptoms may be caused by an inflamed Achilles tendon (Achilles tendonitis), a torn calf muscle, arthritis of the ankle, or deep vein thrombosis in the calf, so an MRI or ultrasound scan will likely be used to diagnose your condition.
To diagnose an Achilles tendon injury, your health care provider will give you a thorough physical exam. He or she may want to see you walk or run to look for problems that might have contributed to your Achilles tendon injury.
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.
Operative treatment of Achilles tendon ruptures involves opening the skin and identifying the torn tendon. This is then sutured together to create a stable construct. This can be performed through a standard Achilles tendon repair technique or through a mini-incision technique (to read about the different types of techniques, look under ?Procedure? in Achilles Tendon Repair). By suturing the torn tendon ends together, they maintain continuity and can be mobilized more quickly. However, it is critical to understand that the return to normal activities must wait until adequate healing of the tendon has occurred. The potential advantages of an open repair of the Achilles tendon include, faster recovery, this means that patients will lose less strength. Early Range of Motion. They are able to move the ankle earlier so it is easier to regain motion. Lower Re-rupture Rate. The re-rupture rate may be significantly lower in operatively treated patients (2-5%) compared to patients treated non-operatively (8-15%). The main disadvantage of an open repair of the Achilles tendon rupture is the potential for a wound-healing problem which could lead to a deep infection that is difficult to eradicate, or a painful scar.
There are things you can do to help prevent an Achilles tendon injury. You should try the following. Cut down on uphill running. Wear shoes with good support that fit well. Always increase the intensity of your physical activity slowly. Stop exercising if you feel pain or tightness in the back of your calf or heel.