The Facts Concerning Ruptured Achilles Tendons

Overview

Achilles Tendon

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) completely or just partially. If your Achilles tendon ruptures, you might feel a pop or snap, followed by an immediate sharp pain in the back of your ankle and lower leg that is likely to affect your ability to walk properly. Surgery is often the best option to repair an Achilles tendon rupture. For many people, however, nonsurgical treatment works just as well.




Causes

As with any muscle or tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon can be torn if there is a high force or stress on it. This can happen with activities which involve a forceful push off with the foot, for example, in football, running, basketball, diving, and tennis. The push off movement uses a strong contraction of the calf muscles which can stress the Achilles tendon too much. The Achilles tendon can also be damaged by injuries such as falls, if the foot is suddenly forced into an upward-pointing position, this movement stretches the tendon. Another possible injury is a deep cut at the back of the ankle, which might go into the tendon. Sometimes the Achilles tendon is weak, making it more prone to rupture. Factors that weaken the Achilles tendon are as follows. Corticosteroid medication (such as prednisolone) - mainly if it is used as long-term treatment rather than a short course. Corticosteroid injection near the Achilles tendon. Certain rare medical conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome, where the body makes too much of its own corticosteroid hormones. Increasing age. Tendonitis (inflammation) of the Achilles tendon. Other medical conditions which can make the tendon more prone to rupture; for example, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus. Certain antibiotic medicines may slightly increase the risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture. These are the quinolone antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin. The risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture with these antibiotics is actually very low, and mainly applies if you are also taking corticosteroid medication or are over the age of about 60.




Symptoms

A sudden and severe pain may be felt at the back of the ankle or calf, often described as "being hit by a rock or shot" or "like someone stepped onto the back of my ankle." The sound of a loud pop or snap may be reported. A gap or depression may be felt and seen in the tendon about 2 inches above the heel bone. Initial pain, swelling, and stiffness may be followed by bruising and weakness. The pain may decrease quickly, and smaller tendons may retain the ability to point the toes. Without the Achilles tendon, though, this would be very difficult. Standing on tiptoe and pushing off when walking will be impossible. A complete tear is more common than a partial tear.




Diagnosis

A doctor will look at the type of physical activity you have been doing. He or she will then look at your foot, ankle and leg. An MRI may also be used. This is to help determine the severity of the tear and the extent of separation of the fibers.




Non Surgical Treatment

Once a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture has been confirmed, a referral to an orthopaedic specialist for treatment will be recommended. Treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture aims to facilitate the torn ends of the tendon healing back together again. Treatment may be non-surgical (conservative) or surgical. Factors such as the site and extent of the rupture, the time since the rupture occurred and the preferences of the specialist and patient will be considered when deciding which treatment will be undertaken. Some cases of rupture that have not responded well to non-surgical treatment may require surgery at a later stage. The doctor will immobilise the ankle in a cast or a special hinged splint (known as a ?moon boot?) with the foot in a toes-pointed position. The cast or splint will stay in place for 6 - 8 weeks. The cast will be checked and may be changed during this time.

Achilles Tendonitis




Surgical Treatment

This injury is often treated surgically. Surgical care adds the risks of surgery, there are for you to view. After the surgery, the cast and aftercare is typically as follows. A below-knee cast (from just below the knee to the tips of the toes) is applied. The initial cast may be applied with your foot positioned in a downward direction to allow the ends of the tendon to lie closer together for initial healing. You may be brought back in 2-3 week intervals until the foot can be positioned at 90 degrees to the leg in the cast. The first 6 weeks in the cast are typically non-weight bearing with crutches or other suitable device to assist with the non-weight bearing requirement. After 6 weeks in the non-removable cast, a removable walking cast is started. The removable walking cast can be removed for therapy, sleeping and bathing. The period in the removable walking cast may need to last for an additional 2-6 weeks. Your doctor will review a home physical therapy program with you (more on this program later) that will typically start not long after your non-removable cast is removed. Your doctor may also refer you for formal physical therapy appointments. Typically, weight bearing exercise activities are kept restricted for at least 4 months or more. Swimming or stationary cycling activities may be allowed sooner. Complete healing may take 12 months or more.

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