The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the human body. The Achilles tendon connects the heel bone (calcaneus) to the muscles at the back of the calf (using gastrocnemius and soleus muscles). The synchronous function of the tendon and calf muscles is critical for activities like jumping, running, standing on the toe, and climbing stairs. When climbing stairs or running, the forces within the tendon have been measured and indicate that the structure is able to withstand at least 10 times the body weight of the individual. The function of the Achilles tendon is to help raise your heel as you walk. The tendon also assists in pushing up the toes and lifting the rear of the heel. Without an intact Achilles tendon, almost any motion with the ankle (for example, walking or running) is difficult.
Often an Achilles rupture can occur spontaneously without any prodromal symptoms. Unfortunately the first “pop” or “snap” that you experience is your Achilles tendon rupture. Achilles tendon 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, squash, basketball, soccer, softball and badminton. Achilles rupture 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 over stretching the tendon. You fall from a significant height. It does appear that previous history of Achilles tendonitis results in a degenerative tendon, which can grow weak and thin with age and lack of use. Then it becomes prone to injury or rupture. Certain illnesses (such as arthritis and diabetes) and medications (such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics) can also increase the risk of rupture.
Typically patients present with sudden onset of pain and swelling in the achilles region, often accompanied by a audible snap during forceful dorsiflexion of the foot. A classic example is that of an unfit ‘weekend warrior’ playing squash. If complete a defect may be felt and the patient will have only minimal plantar flexion against resistance.
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
Achilles tendon rupture is treated using non surgical method or surgical method. Non surgical treatment involves wearing a cast or special brace which is changed after some period of time to bring the tendon back to its normal length. Along with cast or brace, physical therapy may be recommended to improve the strength and flexibility of leg muscles and Achilles tendon.
Debate remains regarding the best form of treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon. The 2 options are:immobilisation or operation. A recent meta-analysis of scientific studies showed that compared to immobilisation, an operation reduces the risk of re-rupture and allows a quicker return to work. An operation is not without risk and these must be balanced against the benefit of a lower re-rupture rate. Both treatments involve immobilisation for 8 weeks.
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