The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. It functions to help control the foot when walking and running. Ruptures of the Achilles tendon commonly occur in individuals in their 30s and 40s. This age group is affected because these patients are still quite active, but over time their tendons tend to become stiffer and gradually weaken. These ruptures usually occur when an athlete loads the Achilles in preparation to pushing off. This can occur when suddenly changing directions, starting to run, or preparing to jump. These ruptures occur because the calf muscle generates tremendous force through the Achilles tendon in the process of propelling the body. Patients will feel a sharp intense pain in the back of their heel. Patients often initially think that they were ?struck in the back of the heel? and then realize that there was no one around them. After the injury, patients will have some swelling. If they can walk at all, it will be with a marked limp. It is very rare that a rupture of the Achilles is partial. However, a painful Achilles tendonitis or a partial rupture of the calf muscle (gastrocnemius) as it inserts into the Achilles can also cause pain in this area. The pain of an Achilles rupture can subside quickly and this injury may be misdiagnosed in the Emergency Department as a sprain. Important clues to the diagnosis are an inability to push off with the foot and a visible or palpable defect just above the heel bone in the back of the leg.
The cause of Achilles tendon ruptures besides obviously direct trauma, is multifactorial. In many instances the rupture occurs about 2-6 cm before its attachment to the calcaneous (heel bone). In this area there is a weaker blood supply making it more susceptible to injury and rupture. Rigid soled shoes can also be the causative factor in combination with the structure of your foot being susceptible to injury.
It is important to know that pain at the back of the heel is not always due to Achilles tendon rupture. It may be due to bursitis (fluid accumulation in the heel due to repeated irritation) and tendonitis (pain along the Achilles tendon due to constant friction and irritation). The above disorders tend to improve with use of pain medications and rest, whereas Achilles tendon rupture requires surgery and/or a cast.
Your doctor diagnoses the rupture based on symptoms, history of the injury and physical examination. Your doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles, if the Achilles tendon is intact, there will be flexion movement of the foot, if it is ruptured, there will be no movement observed.
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.
Surgical repair is a common method of treatment of acute Achilles rupture in North America because, despite a higher risk of overall complications, it has been believed to offer a reduced risk of rerupture. However, more recent trials, particularly those using functional bracing with early range of motion, have challenged this belief. The aim of this meta-analysis was to compare surgical treatment and conservative treatment with regard to the rerupture rate, the overall rate of other complications, return to work, calf circumference, and functional outcomes, as well as to examine the effects of early range of motion on the rerupture rate.
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