The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. Together, they help you push your heel off the ground and go up on your toes. You use these muscles and your Achilles tendon when you walk, run, and jump. If your Achilles tendon stretches too far, it can tear or rupture. If this happens, you may hear a snapping, cracking, or popping sound and feel a sharp pain in the back of your leg or ankle. Have trouble moving your foot to walk or go up stairs. Have difficulty standing on your toes. Have bruising or swelling in your leg or foot.
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.
Patients with an Achilles tendon rupture frequently present with complaints of a sudden snap in the lower calf associated with acute, severe pain. The patient reports feeling like he or she has been shot, kicked, or cut in the back of the leg, which may result in an inability to ambulate further. A patient with Achilles tendon rupture will be unable to stand on his or her toes on the affected side.
The actual area of an Achilles tendon rupture cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture these x-rays are usually normal. Diagnostic ultrasound of the tendon can be performed to assess the integrity of the tendon. Other diagnostic tests, such as MRI's, may also be required in difficult cases.
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 offers important potential benefits. Besides decreasing the likelihood of re-rupturing the Achilles tendon, surgery often increases the patient?s push-off strength and improves muscle function and movement of the ankle. Various surgical techniques are available to repair the rupture. The surgeon will select the procedure best suited to the patient. Following surgery, the foot and ankle are initially immobilized in a cast or walking boot. The surgeon will determine when the patient can begin weight bearing. Complications such as incision-healing difficulties re-rupture of the tendon, or nerve pain can arise after surgery.