The Achilles tendon is the strong band of tissue that connects the calf muscle to the heel. This tendon helps the foot to point downward and assists with foot movement for walking, running and jumping. If the tendon becomes stretched too far, it may tear, or rupture. An Achilles rupture often occurs as a result of repeated stress on the tendon while playing sports such as soccer or basketball. When a patient ruptures an Achilles tendon, they experience severe pain and swelling near the heel of the foot and are unable to walk normally or bend their foot. Although frequently resulting from the same stresses that cause Achilles tendonitis, an Achilles rupture is a far more serious injury. Sometimes non-surgical treatment methods will be effective selected cases, but an Achilles tendon rupture usually requires surgical repair.
There are a variety of factors that may contribute to the rupture of the Achilles tendon. It is especially common among athletes who participate in sports that require sudden movements, such as running, football, basketball and tennis. While inflammation of the tendon is quite common and may develop gradually, ruptures are usually caused by traumatic injury, frequently accompanied by a popping or snapping sound as the tendon tears. Men over the age of 30 are particularly prone to Achilles tendon ruptures.
- Overuse of the tendon
- Poor stretching habits prior to exercise
- Engaging in physical activity after a long break such as the “weekend warrior”
- Taking certain types of antibiotics, such as Ciprofloxacin or Levaquin
- Having steroid injections around the ankle joint
- Running on difficult terrain
Following an Achilles rupture, patients typically have pain in the ankle or lower leg, making it difficult to walk. Because these symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, such as bursitis and tendonitis, it is important to seek prompt medical attention in order to determine the correct diagnosis. An x-ray and MRI are usually indicated to evaluate the Achilles tendon rupture and the extent of the rupture.
Treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture usually requires undergoing surgery to repair the tendon and restore function and strength to the foot. Surgical Achilles rupture repair involves making an incision in the back of the lower leg to access the damaged tendon. The ruptured tendon is then repaired and sometimes reinforced with other tendon tissue. Some Achilles ruptures can be immobilized without surgery, followed by aggressive physical rehabilitation.
Whether an Achilles tendon rupture repair is performed surgically or non-surgically, a period of physical rehabilitation will be necessary. Physical rehabilitation programs for this injury may include stretching and strengthening exercises for the leg muscles and the Achilles tendon, which can be extremely effective at restoring function to the leg. Patients who have undergone Achilles tendon rupture repair treatments, whether surgical or non-surgical, will usually be able to return to their normal activity levels after four to six months of recovery.