The Achilles tendon connects the muscles in the back of your lower leg to your heel bone. It allows you to move your foot down (?step on the gas? motion). This movement is essential for walking, running, and jumping. A sudden strong contraction of the lower leg (such as when playing sports) can partially tear or rupture the Achilles tendon. This injury is more likely if there is prior injury or inflammation of that tendon from prior stress. You may feel a pop or snap, or like you have been kicked. An Achilles tendon tear will cause local swelling and pain and difficulty in walking. A complete Achilles rupture is usually treated with surgery to attach the torn ends of the tendon. This is followed by 6-8 weeks in a walking cast, boot, or splint. Nonsurgical treatment is an option, but it will take longer to heal and the risk of repeat rupture is greater. With either type of treatment, you will need a physical therapy program to strengthen your Achilles tendon. It will take 4-6 months to return to your former level of activity.
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 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.
Diagnosis is made by clinical history; typically people say it feels like being kicked or shot behind the ankle. Upon examination a gap may be felt just above the heel unless swelling has filled the gap and the Simmonds' test (aka Thompson test) will be positive; squeezing the calf muscles of the affected side while the patient lies prone, face down, with his feet hanging loose results in no movement (no passive plantarflexion) of the foot, while movement is expected with an intact Achilles tendon and should be observable upon manipulation of the uninvolved calf. Walking will usually be severely impaired, as the patient will be unable to step off the ground using the injured leg. The patient will also be unable to stand up on the toes of that leg, and pointing the foot downward (plantarflexion) will be impaired. Pain may be severe, and swelling is common. Sometimes an ultrasound scan may be required to clarify or confirm the diagnosis. MRI can also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment of Achilles tendon rupture is usually reserved for patients who are relatively sedentary or may be at higher risk for complications with surgical intervention (due to other associated medical problems). This involves a period of immobilization, followed by range of motion and strengthening exercises; unfortunately, it is associated with a higher risk of re-rupture of the tendon, and possibly a less optimal functional outcome.
Surgical repair is a common method of treatment of acute Achilles rupture in North America because, despite a higher risk of overall complications, it has been believed to offer a reduced risk of rerupture. However, more recent trials, particularly those using functional bracing with early range of motion, have challenged this belief. The aim of this meta-analysis was to compare surgical treatment and conservative treatment with regard to the rerupture rate, the overall rate of other complications, return to work, calf circumference, and functional outcomes, as well as to examine the effects of early range of motion on the rerupture rate.