The Facts Concerning Ruptured Achilles Tendons

Overview

Achilles Tendonitis

Complete Achilles tendon ruptures occur most commonly at the mid-substance, but also distally at the insertion site or proximally at the myotendinous junction. These can be traumatic and devastating injuries, resulting in significant pain, disability, and healthcare cost. As many as 2.5 million individuals sustain Achilles tendon ruptures each year and the incidence is rising. This trend is due, in part, to an increase in athletic participation across individuals of all ages.

Causes

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

Many people say that a ruptured Achilles feels like ?being shot in the heel?, if you can imagine how enjoyable that feels. You may hear a snap sound or feel a sudden sharp pain when the tendon tears. After a few moments, the pain settles and the back of the lower leg aches. You can walk and bear weight, but you may find it difficult to point the foot downward or push off the ground on the affected side. You will be unable to stand on tiptoe. Bruising and swelling are likely, and persistent pain will be present. Similar symptoms may be caused by an inflamed Achilles tendon (Achilles tendonitis), a torn calf muscle, arthritis of the ankle, or deep vein thrombosis in the calf, so an MRI or ultrasound scan will likely be used to diagnose your condition.

Diagnosis

A detailed history, and examination by an appropriately qualified health professional, will allow a diagnosis to be made. An ultrasound or MRI scan can confirm the diagnosis. Other causes of symptoms in the area, such as those referred from the lumbar spine and local infection, should be excluded.

Non Surgical Treatment

Non-surgical treatment typically involves wearing a brace or cast for the first six weeks following the injury to allow time for the ends of the torn tendon to reattach on their own. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may be taken during this time to reduce pain and swelling. Once the tendon has reattached, physical therapy will be needed to strengthen the muscles and tendon. A full recovery is usually made within four to six months.

Achilles Tendonitis

Surgical Treatment

There are two types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. In open surgery, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the back of the leg. In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions rather than one large incision. In both types of surgery, the surgeon sews the tendon back together through the incision(s). Surgery may be delayed for about a week after the rupture, to let the swelling go down.

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