Rupture of the Achilles tendon is a common injury in healthy, young, active individuals. The rupture is typically spontaneous and most commonly observed in individuals in between 24-45 years of age. The majority have had no prior history of pain or previous injury to the heel. In the majority of cases, rupture of the Achilles tendon occurs just a few centimeters above the heel bone. Common causes of Achilles tendinitis or rupture include advanced age, poor conditioning, and overexertion during exercise. In most cases, the individual rapidly performs activity like running or standing on the toes, which generates intense force on the tendon, leading to rupture. Achilles tendon rupture is often described as an abrupt break with instantaneous pain that is felt in the foot or heel area. The pain may radiate along the back of the leg and is often intense. Generally, walking may be difficult and the foot may drag. Most individuals claim that they felt like they were kicked in that area or even shot at. These symptoms lead to a suspicion of rupture of the Achilles tendon. Sometimes the tendon does not fully rupture but only a partial tear develops. The partial tear can also present with pain, and if not recognized, can rapidly develop into a full-blown rupture. In the majority of cases, the Achilles tendon rupture occurs just above the heel, but it may occur anywhere along the length of the tendon.
Achilles tendon ruptures are most likely to occur in sports requiring sudden stretching, such as sprinting and racquet sports. Achilles tendon ruptures can happen to anyone, but are most likely to occur to middle age athletes who have not been training or who have been doing relatively little training. Common sporting activities related to Achilles tendon rupture include, badminton, tennis, squash. Less common sporting activities that can lead to Achilles tendon rupture include: TKD, soccer etc. Occasionally the sufferer may have a history of having had pain in the Achilles tendon in the past and was treated with steroid injection to around the tendon by a doctor. This can lead to weakening of the tendon predisposing it to complete rupture. Certain antibiotics taken by mouth or by intravenous route can weaken the Achilles tendon predisposing it to rupture. An example would be the quinolone group of antibiotics. An common example is Ciprofloxacin (or Ciprobay).
The pain from an Achilles tendon rupture is usually felt in the back of the lower leg, in the area 2 to 6 cm. above the Achilles tendon's attachment to the calcaneus. Individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture often describe a "pop" or similar feeling at the time of the injury. A "hole" or defect in the Achilles tendon can usually be felt under the skin in this area. A limp and inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot are usually present. If the affected foot does not plantar flex when the calf muscles are squeezed an Achilles tendon rupture is very likely.
Some patients mistakenly believe the tendon is working if they can push the foot down, however, patients will usually be able to move the foot up and down while sitting because the other surrounding muscles and tendons are still intact. Trying to push up while standing and applying body weight to the foot will reveal the true weakness. Sensation and circulation to the foot and ankle will be normal. In addition, x-rays will be normal unless the Achilles injury involves pulling off (avulsion) of the bone on the calcaneus (heel bone). This is quite rare, occurring in only a small fraction of patients with Achilles injuries. Patients suffering this type of Achilles avulsion injury tend to be older with weaker bone.
Imaging Studies. Plain x-rays will be negative in patients who have suffered an Achilles tendon rupture. The rupture can be seen on ultrasound or MRI. However, these studies are not indicated for acute ruptures unless there is some uncertainty about the diagnosis. For chronic problems of the Achilles or ruptures that are old, an MRI may be very helpful.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of the initial injury is with use of ice, elevation, and immobilization. If suspected you should contact your podiatrist or physician. Further treatment with continued immobilization, pain medication, or anti-inflammatory medications may be advised. If casted the foot is usually placed in a plantarflexed position to decrease the stretch on the tendon. As healing progresses the cast is changed to a more dorsiflexed position at the ankle. The casting processes can be up to 8 weeks or more.
Operative treatment of Achilles tendon ruptures involves opening the skin and identifying the torn tendon. This is then sutured together to create a stable construct. This can be performed through a standard Achilles tendon repair technique or through a mini-incision technique (to read about the different types of techniques, look under ?Procedure? in Achilles Tendon Repair). By suturing the torn tendon ends together, they maintain continuity and can be mobilized more quickly. However, it is critical to understand that the return to normal activities must wait until adequate healing of the tendon has occurred. The potential advantages of an open repair of the Achilles tendon include, faster recovery, this means that patients will lose less strength. Early Range of Motion. They are able to move the ankle earlier so it is easier to regain motion. Lower Re-rupture Rate. The re-rupture rate may be significantly lower in operatively treated patients (2-5%) compared to patients treated non-operatively (8-15%). The main disadvantage of an open repair of the Achilles tendon rupture is the potential for a wound-healing problem which could lead to a deep infection that is difficult to eradicate, or a painful scar.