The Achilles tendon is the extension from the two large muscles in the calf region, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These two muscles combine to form the Achilles tendon. The tendon forms in the lower one third of the leg and extends to the back of the heel bone (calcaneus). When the muscles of the calf contract this produces tension on the Achilles tendon pulling on the back of heel causing the heel to rise and the foot to point downward. It is during this motion that high-tension force is transmitted through the Achilles tendon during pushing and jumping activity. This high tension force can cause the Achilles tendon to tear or rupture. This happens in 3 common locations. The most common location for a tendon tear is within the tendon substance just above the heel. The second and third most common locations are where the Achilles tendon attaches into the heel bone and higher in the leg, where the tendon begins.
A rupture occurs when a patient overstretches the Achilles tendon, an act which causes it to tear partially or completely. Achilles tendon ruptures can occur during athletic play or any time the tendon is stretched in an unexpected way.
Typically patients present with sudden onset of pain and swelling in the achilles region, often accompanied by a audible snap during forceful dorsiflexion of the foot. A classic example is that of an unfit 'weekend warrior' playing squash. If complete a defect may be felt and the patient will have only minimal plantar flexion against resistance.
A doctor will look at the type of physical activity you have been doing. He or she will then look at your foot, ankle and leg. An MRI may also be used. This is to help determine the severity of the tear and the extent of separation of the fibers.
Non Surgical Treatment
A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. Use support devices as directed. You may need crutches or a cane for support when you walk. These devices help decrease stress and pressure on your tendon. Your caregiver will tell you how much weight you can put on your leg. Ask for more information about how to use crutches or a cane correctly. Start activity as directed. Your caregiver will tell you when it is okay to walk and play sports. You may not be able to play sports for 6 months or longer. Ask when you can go back to work or school. Do not drive until your caregiver says it is okay.
In general, for complete tear of the tendon, surgery is recommended. For partial tears, nonsurgical treatment is recommended. However, the selection of treatment depends on the patient, age, level of activity, and other risk factors. Surgery for Achilles tendon rupture is now routine and well established. Surgery is generally suggested for the young, healthy and active individuals. For athletes, surgery is often the first choice of treatment. The Achilles tendon can be repaired surgically by either a closed or open technique. With the open technique, an incision is made to allow for better visualization and approximation of the tendon. With the closed technique, the surgeon makes several small skin incisions through which the tendon is repaired. Irrespective of type of treatment, a short leg cast (plaster) is applied on the operated ankle after completion of the procedure. The advantages of a surgical approach includes a decreased risk of re-rupture rate (0%-5%) the majority of individuals can return to their original sporting activities (within a short time), and most regain their strength and endurance. Disadvantages of a surgical approach include hospital admission, wound complications (for example, skin sloughing, infection, sinus tract formation, sural nerve injury), higher costs, and hospital admission.