Achilles tendon rupture are common. Most athletes describe a sudden acute event with an associated popping sensation and pain in the Achilles tendon. They often think that they have been kicked or struck in the calf. It is important to get prompt treatment and to be placed in an equinous cast (a cast with the foot in a pointed position). More definitive treatment options can be discussed after this has occurred.
The cause of Achilles tendon ruptures besides obviously direct trauma, is multifactorial. In many instances the rupture occurs about 2-6 cm before its attachment to the calcaneous (heel bone). In this area there is a weaker blood supply making it more susceptible to injury and rupture. Rigid soled shoes can also be the causative factor in combination with the structure of your foot being susceptible to injury.
The most common symptom of Achilles tendonitis is a sudden surge of pain in the heel and back of the ankle at the point of injury which is often described as a snapping sensation in the heel. After the injury has occurred, patients then struggle or find it near impossible to bear any weight on the affected leg. Pain can often be most prominent first thing in the morning after the injury has been rested. Swelling and tenderness is also likely to appear in the area.
During the clinical examination, the patient will have significantly reduced ankle plantar flexion strength on the involved side. When the tendon is palpated with one finger on either side, the tendon can be followed from the calcaneus to where it "disappears" in the area of the rupture and to where it then returns 2 to 3 cm proximal to the rupture. If the injury is recent, the patient indicates that her pain is localized at the site of the rupture. The defect eventually fills with blood and edema and the skin over the area becomes ecchymotic.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-operative treatment consists of placing the foot in a downward position [equinus] and providing relative immobilization of the foot in this position until the Achilles has healed. This typically involves some type of stable bracing or relative immobilization for 6 weeks, often with limited or no weight bearing. The patient can then be transitioned to a boot with a heel lift and then gradually increase their activity level within the boot. It is very important that the status of the Achilles is monitored throughout non-operative treatment. This can be done by examination or via ultrasound. If there is evidence of gapping or non-healing, surgery may need to be considered. Formal protocols have been developed to help optimize non-operative treatments and excellent results have been reported with these protocols. The focus of these treatments is to ensure that the Achilles rupture is in continuity and is healing in a satisfactory manner. The primary advantage of non-operative treatment is that without an incision in this area, there are no problems with wound healing or infection. Wound infection following Achilles tendon surgery can be a devastating complication and therefore, for many patients, non-operative treatment should be contemplated. The main disadvantage of non-operative treatment is that the recovery is probably slower. On average, the main checkpoints of recovery occur 3-4 weeks quicker with operative treatment than with non-operative treatment. In addition, the re-rupture rate appears to be higher with some non-operative treatments. Re-rupture typically occurs 8-18 months after the original injury.
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.