The Achilles tendon is situated above the heel and forms the lower part of the calf muscles. It is a continuation of the two calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, and it attaches to the heel bone. It is the strongest tendon in the human body and must withstand great forces. Its function is to transmit the force produced by the calf muscles to lift the heel and produce the push off during walking, running and jumping. The Achilles can produce force of up to seven times body weight. This shows just how much force it has to withstand during sporting activities, such as sprinting, jumping and turning.
The most common cause of a ruptured Achilles' tendon is when too much stress is placed through the tendon, particularly when pushing off with the foot. This may happen when playing sports such as football, basketball or tennis where the foot is dorsiflexed or pushed into an upward position during a fall. If the Achilles' tendon is weak, it is prone to rupture. Various factors can cause weakness, including corticosteroid medication and injections, certain diseases caused by hormone imbalance and tendonitis. Old age can also increase the risk of Achilles' tendon rupture.
Although it's possible to have no signs or symptoms with an Achilles tendon rupture, most people experience pain, possibly severe, and swelling near your heel. An inability to bend your foot downward or "push off" the injured leg when you walk. An inability to stand up on your toes on the injured leg. A popping or snapping sound when the injury occurs. Seek medical advice immediately if you feel a pop or snap in your heel, especially if you can't walk properly afterward.
When Achilles tendon injury is suspected, the entire lower lag is examined for swelling, bruising, and tenderness. If there is a full rupture, a gap in the tendon may be noted. Patients will not be able to stand on the toes if there is a complete Achilles tendon rupture. Several tests can be performed to look for Achilles tendon rupture. One of the most widely used tests is called the Thompson test. The patient is asked to lie down on the stomach and the examiner squeezes the calf area. In normal people, this leads to flexion of the foot. With Achilles tendon injury, this movement is not seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is no definitive protocol for conservative management. Traditionally, conservative treatment involved immobilisation in a cast or boot, with initial non-weight bearing. Recently, good results have been achieved with functional bracing and early mobilisation, and it is common to be immediately weight-bearing in an orthotic. Conservative management reduces the chance of complications, such as infection. There is a risk the tendon can heal too long and more slowly.
Unlike other diseases of the Achilles tendon such as tendonitis or bursitis, Achilles tendon rupture is usually treated with surgical repair. The surgery consists of making a small incision in the back part of the leg, and using sutures to re-attach the two ends of the ruptured tendon. Depending on the condition of the ends of the ruptured tendon and the amount of separation, the surgeon may use other tendons to reinforce the repair. After the surgery, the leg will be immobilized for 6-8 weeks in a walking boot, cast, brace, or splint. Following this time period, patients work with a physical therapist to gradually regain their range of motion and strength. Return to full activity can take quite a long time, usually between 6 months and 1 year.