What is a Achilles Tendon Rupture?

An Achilles tendon rupture affects the back of the lower leg. It mainly affects patients who play recreational sports, but it can happen to anyone.

The Achilles tendon consists of a strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of the calf to the heel bone. If you overstretch the Achilles tendon, it can tear completely or just partially.

If the Achilles tendon ruptures, you may hear a pop, followed by a sharp pain in the back of the ankle and lower leg that will likely affect the ability to walk properly. Surgeons often need to perform surgery to repair the rupture. For many patients however, nonsurgical treatment can work just as well.

Causes of an Achilles Tendon Rupture

The Achilles tendon helps you point the foot downward, rise on the toes and push off the foot as you walk. You rely on it every time you walk and move your foot.

A Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon situated 2 1/2 inches from the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section might rupture due to poor blood flow which also can impair its ability to heal.

A sudden increase in the stress on the Achilles tendon often causes ruptures. Common examples include:

  • Increasing the intensity of exercise
  • Falling injuries
  • Stepping into a hole

Symptoms of an Achilles Tendon Rupture

Although it’s possible to show no symptoms with an Achilles tendon rupture, most people experience:

  • The feeling of having been kicked in the calf
  • Severe pain and swelling of the heel
  • An inability to bend the foot downward
  • An inability to stand on the toes
  • A popping or snapping sound when the injury occurs

Seek medical advice immediately if you hear a pop in the heel, especially if you find walking difficult.

Treatment for an Achilles Tendon Rupture

An Achilles tendon rupture is a serious injury that typically requires medical intervention. The treatment options for an Achilles tendon rupture include both nonsurgical and surgical approaches, and the choice depends on various factors such as the extent of the injury, activity level, and individual circumstances. Here are the common treatment methods:

Nonsurgical treatment:

    • Non-weight-bearing: Initially, you may need to avoid putting weight on the injured leg. This can be achieved using crutches or a walking boot.
    • Immobilization: To allow the tendon to heal, your foot and ankle may be placed in a cast or a brace. This helps to keep the tendon in a stretched position and minimize the risk of re-rupture.
    • Physical therapy: Once the initial healing phase is complete, physical therapy is typically recommended. This includes exercises to gradually strengthen the calf muscles and improve range of motion. Therapists may use techniques like ultrasound or electrical stimulation to aid in healing.
    • Heel lifts or wedges: As the healing progresses, your healthcare provider may advise using heel lifts or wedges in your shoes to gradually raise the heel and reduce strain on the Achilles tendon.

Surgical treatment:

    • Repair and suture: Surgical intervention involves making an incision and stitching the torn ends of the Achilles tendon back together. The type of surgical technique used may vary, including open repair or minimally invasive procedures.
    • Immobilization: After surgery, you will typically be placed in a cast, walking boot, or brace to immobilize the foot and ankle for several weeks.
    • Physical therapy: Once the initial healing phase is complete, physical therapy is initiated to gradually strengthen the calf muscles, improve flexibility, and restore normal function.

The choice between surgical and nonsurgical treatment depends on various factors, such as the patient’s age, activity level, overall health, and the extent of the injury. Surgical treatment is generally recommended for younger, active individuals and those with a complete rupture, while nonsurgical treatment may be suitable for older individuals or those with partial ruptures.