What Are The Causes Of A Ruptured Achilles Tendon?

Overview

Achilles Tendon

The Achilles tendon is situated above the heel and forms the lower part of the calf muscles. It is a continuation of the two calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, and it attaches to the heel bone. It is the strongest tendon in the human body and must withstand great forces. Its function is to transmit the force produced by the calf muscles to lift the heel and produce the push off during walking, running and jumping. The Achilles can produce force of up to seven times body weight. This shows just how much force it has to withstand during sporting activities, such as sprinting, jumping and turning.




Causes

The Achilles tendon usually ruptures as a result of a sudden forceful contraction of the calf muscles. Activities such as jumping, lunging, or sprinting can cause undue stress on the Achilles tendon and cause it to rupture. Often there is a background of Achilles tendinitis. Direct trauma to the area, poor flexibility or weakness of the calf muscles or of the Achilles tendon and increasing age are some of the other factors that are associated with an Achilles tendon rupture.




Symptoms

Symptoms of an Achilles tendon rupture usually directly follow a traumatic event where the foot is forced in an upward position at the ankle, causing a sudden tight stretch of the Achilles tendon. There can also be a direct blow to the tendon causing a rupture. There is typically a popping feeling or even a popping sound described during the occurance of the rupture. Typically there is pain with swelling in the region. Often the patient is unable to put weight on this foot as there is too much pain.




Diagnosis

It is usually possible to detect a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon on the history and examination. A gap may be felt in the tendon, usually 4-5cm above the heel bone. This is the normal site of injury and is called an intra-substance tear. The tear can occur higher up about 10cm above the insertion into the heel at the site where the muscles join the tendon, this is known as a musculo-tendinous tear. A special test will be performed which involves squeezing the calf. Normally if the Achilles tendon is intact this causes the foot to point downwards but if it is ruptured it causes no movement. To confirm the diagnosis and the exact site of the rupture it may be necessary to perform an Ultra-sound or MRI scan.




Non Surgical Treatment

The most widely used method of non-surgical treatment involves the use of serial casting with gradual progression from plantar flexion to neutral or using a solid removable boot with heel inserts to bring the ends of the tendon closer together. The advantage of a solid removable boot is that it allows the patient to begin early motion and is removable. Wide variability exists among surgeons in regards to the period of absolute immobilization, initiating range of motion exercises, and progression of weight bearing status.

Achilles Tendinitis




Surgical Treatment

Operative treatment involves a 6cm incision along the inner side of the tendon. The torn ends are then strongly stitched together with the correct tension. After the operation a below knee half cast is applied for 2 weeks. At 2 weeks a brace will be applied that will allow you to move the foot and fully weight-bear for a further 6 weeks. After this you will need physiotherapy. Surgery carries the general risks of any operation but the risk of re-rupture is greatly reduced to 2%. The best form of treatment is controversial with good results being obtained by both methods but surgery is generally recommended for patients under 60 years of age who are fit and active with an intra-substance tear.

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