Achilles Tendon Rupture The Facts

Overview Achilles Tendinitis The Achilles tendon runs from the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg and inserts at the back of the heel. A torn achilles can be a partial rupture or a total rupture. A total rupture is more common in men affecting them 10 times more than women. Injury typically occurs 30 to 40 minutes into a period of exercise rather than at the start of a session and nearly always happens from a sudden explosive movement or bending the foot upwards. Many patients are able to continue to function following an achilles rupture due to other muscles compensating although the injured leg will be significantly weaker. There are four key tests which can help diagnose a ruptured achilles tendon. Causes The Achilles tendon can grow weak and thin with age and lack of use. Then it becomes prone to injury or rupture. Achilles tendon rupture is more common in those with preexisting tendinitis of the Achilles tendon. Certain illnesses (such as arthritis and diabetes) and medications (such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics, including quinolones such as levofloxacin [Levaquin] and ciprofloxacin [Cipro]) can also increase the risk of rupture. Rupture most commonly occurs in the middle-aged male athlete (the weekend warrior who is engaging in a pickup game of basketball, for example). Injury often occurs during recreational sports that require bursts of jumping, pivoting, and running. Most often these are tennis, racquetball, basketball, and badminton. The injury can happen in the following situations. You make a forceful push-off with your foot while your knee is straightened by the powerful thigh muscles. One example might be starting a foot race or jumping. You suddenly trip or stumble, and your foot is thrust in front to break a fall, forcefully overstretching the tendon. You fall from a significant height or abruptly step into a hole or off of a curb. Symptoms The most common initial symptom of Achilles tendon rupture is a sudden snap at the back of the heels with intense pain. Immediately after the rupture, the majority of individuals will have difficult walking. Some individuals may have had previous complains of calf or heel pain, suggesting prior tendon inflammation or irritation. Immediately after an Achilles tendon rupture, most individuals will develop a limp. In addition, when the ankle is moved, the patient will complain of pain. In all cases, the affected ankle will have no strength. Once the Achilles tendon is ruptured, the individual will not be able to run, climb up the stairs, or stand on his toes. The ruptured Achilles tendon prevents the power from the calf muscles to move the heel. Whenever the diagnosis is missed, the recovery is often prolonged. Bruising and swelling around the calf and ankle occur. Achilles tendon rupture is frequent in elderly individuals who have a sedentary lifestyle and suddenly become active. In these individuals, the tendon is not strong and the muscles are deconditioned, making recovery more difficult. Achilles tendon rupture has been reported after injection of corticosteroids around the heel bone or attachment of the tendon. The fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin [Cipro]) is also known to cause Achilles tendon weakness and rupture, especially in young children. Some individuals have had a prior tendon rupture that was managed conservatively. In such cases, recurrence of rupture is very high. Diagnosis 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 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. Achilles Tendinitis Surgical Treatment Debate remains regarding the best form of treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon. The 2 options are:immobilisation or operation. A recent meta-analysis of scientific studies showed that compared to immobilisation, an operation reduces the risk of re-rupture and allows a quicker return to work. An operation is not without risk and these must be balanced against the benefit of a lower re-rupture rate. Both treatments involve immobilisation for 8 weeks. Prevention To help prevent an Achilles tendon injury, it is a good practice to perform stretching and warm-up exercises before any participating in any activities. Gradually increase the intensity and length of time of activity. Muscle conditioning may help to strengthen the muscles in the body.