Achilles tendon ruptures may be divided into full thickness ("total") and partial thickness ruptures. Total ruptures usually occur in formerly active athletes (average age 40) who resume sport activity after having been away from it for some time. In these cases, degenerative changes have weakened the tendon so much that sudden, forceful loading of the tendon causes it to tear. To some extent, these changes in the tendon could have been prevented by regular physical activity. In most cases, the injury mechanism is a strong activation of the posterior lower leg musculature, eccentrically overloading the tendon. A typical mechanism of injury involves pushing off hard with the weight-bearing foot while the knee is extended (e.g., running uphill) or sudden, unexpected dorsal extension of the ankle with reflex contraction of the calf musculature (e.g., falling down into a hole).
The Achilles tendon can grow weak and thin with age and lack of use. Then it becomes prone to injury or rupture. Achilles tendon rupture is more common in those with preexisting tendinitis of the Achilles tendon. Certain illnesses (such as arthritis and diabetes) and medications (such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics, including quinolones such as levofloxacin [Levaquin] and ciprofloxacin [Cipro]) can also increase the risk of rupture. Rupture most commonly occurs in the middle-aged male athlete (the weekend warrior who is engaging in a pickup game of basketball, for example). Injury often occurs during recreational sports that require bursts of jumping, pivoting, and running. Most often these are tennis, racquetball, basketball, and badminton. The injury can happen in the following situations. You make a forceful push-off with your foot while your knee is straightened by the powerful thigh muscles. One example might be starting a foot race or jumping. You suddenly trip or stumble, and your foot is thrust in front to break a fall, forcefully overstretching the tendon. You fall from a significant height or abruptly step into a hole or off of a curb.
Symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury are as follows. Pain along the back of your foot and above your heel, especially when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes; with tendinitis, pain may be mild and worsen gradually. If you rupture the tendon, pain can be abrupt and severe. Tenderness. Swelling. Stiffness. Hearing a snapping or popping noise during the injury. Difficulty flexing your foot or pointing your toes (in complete tears of the tendon).
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
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.
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.
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or rupture, the following tips are recommended. Avoid activities that place an enormous stress on the heel (for example, uphill running or excessive jumping). Stop all activity if there is pain at the back of the heel. If pain resumes with one particular exercise, another exercise should be selected. Wear proper shoes. Gradually strengthen calf muscles with sit-ups if prior episodes of Achilles tendonitis have occurred. Always warm up with stretching exercises before any activity. Avoid high-impact sports if prior episodes of Achilles tendon injury.