The Achilles tendon is found in the back of the leg above the heel, and is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel bone and is used when walking, running and jumping. A rupture of the tendon is a tearing and separation of the tendon fibers. When a rupture of the tendon occurs, the tendon can no longer perform its normal function. A common issue related to a tear is the inability to point your toe.
The tendon usually ruptures without any warning. It is most common in men between the ages of 40-50, who play sports intermittently, such as badminton and squash. There was probably some degeneration in the tendon before the rupture which may or may not have been causing symptoms.
You may notice the symptoms come on suddenly during a sporting activity or injury. You might hear a snap or feel a sudden sharp pain when the tendon is torn. The sharp pain usually settles quickly, although there may be some aching at the back of the lower leg. After the injury, the usual symptoms are as follows. A flat-footed type of walk. You can walk and bear weight, but cannot push off the ground properly on the side where the tendon is ruptured. Inability to stand on tiptoe. If the tendon is completely torn, you may feel a gap just above the back of the heel. However, if there is bruising then the swelling may disguise the gap. If you suspect an Achilles tendon rupture, it is best to see a doctor urgently, because the tendon heals better if treated sooner rather than later.
The diagnosis is usually made on the basis of symptoms, the history of the injury and a doctors examination.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initial treatment for sprains and strains should occur as soon as possible. Remember RICE! Rest the injured part. Pain is the body's signal to not move an injury. Ice the injury. This will limit the swelling and help with the spasm. Compress the injured area. This again, limits the swelling. Be careful not to apply a wrap so tightly that it might act as a tourniquet and cut off the blood supply. Elevate the injured part. This lets gravity help reduce the swelling by allowing fluid and blood to drain downhill to the heart. Over-the-counter pain medication is an option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is helpful for pain, but ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) might be better, because these medications relieve both pain and inflammation. Remember to follow the guidelines on the bottle for appropriate amounts of medicine, especially for children and teens.
The surgical repair of an acute or chronic rupture of the Achilles tendon typically occurs in an outpatient setting. This means the patient has surgery and goes home the same day. Numbing medicine is often placed into the leg around the nerves to help decrease pain after surgery. This is called a nerve block. Patients are then put to sleep and placed in a position that allows the surgeon access to the ruptured tendon. Repair of an acute rupture often takes somewhere between 30 minutes and one hour. Repair of a chronic rupture can take longer depending on the steps needed to fix the tendon.