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The Facts Not Fiction About Achilles Tendon Rupture

Overview
Achilles Tendinitis
The Achilles tendon, or calcaneal tendon, is a large ropelike band of fibrous tissue in the back of the ankle that connects the powerful calf muscles to the heel bone (calcaneus). Sometimes called the heel cord, it is the largest tendon in the human body. When the calf muscles contract, the Achilles tendon is tightened, pulling the heel. This allows you to point your foot and stand on tiptoe. It is vital to such activities as walking, running, and jumping. A complete tear through the tendon, which usually occurs about 2 inches above the heel bone, is called an Achilles tendon rupture.

Causes
Often the individual will feel or hear a pop or a snap when the injury occurs. There is immediate swelling and severe pain in the back of the heel, below the calf where it ruptures. Pain is usually severe enough that it is difficult or impossible to walk or take a step. The individual will not be able to push off or go on their toes.

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 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. A person with a ruptured Achilles tendon may experience one or more of the following. Sudden pain (which feels like a kick or a stab) in the back of the ankle or calf, often subsiding into a dull ache. A popping or snapping sensation. Swelling on the back of the leg between the heel and the calf. Difficulty walking (especially upstairs or uphill) and difficulty rising up on the toes.

Diagnosis
Diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture is not difficult. Usually, the diagnosis is obvious after examination of the ankle and performing some easy foot maneuvers (such as attempting to stand on the toes). When an Achilles tendon rupture occurs, there is often clinical confirmation of tenderness and bruising around the heel. A gap is felt when the finger is passed over the heel area, where the rupture has developed. All individuals with a full-blown rupture of the tendon are unable to stand on their toes. There is no blood work required in making a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture. The following are three common radiological tests to make a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture. Plain X-rays of the foot may reveal swelling of the soft tissues around the ankle, other bone injury, or tendon calcification. Ultrasound is the next most commonly ordered test to document the injury and size of the tear. For a partial tear of the Achilles tendon, the diagnosis is not always obvious on a physical exam and hence an ultrasound is ordered. This painless procedure can make a diagnosis of partial/full Achilles tendon rupture rapidly. Ultrasound is a relatively inexpensive, fast, and reliable test. MRI is often ordered when diagnosis of tendon rupture is not obvious on ultrasound or a complex injury is suspected. MRI is an excellent imaging test to assess for presence of any soft-tissue trauma or fluid collection. More importantly, MRI can help detect presence of tendon thickening, bursitis, and partial tendon rupture. However, MRI is expensive and is not useful if there is any bone damage.

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 Tendinitis

Surgical Treatment
The goal of surgery is to realign the two ends of the ruptured tendon to allow healing. There are multiple techniques to accomplish this goal that will vary from surgeon to surgeon. Recovery from this injury is usually very successful with return to full function in approximately 6 months. Post operatively casting is required with the use of crutches or other means to remain non-weightbearing for 4-8 weeks. This is followed by a course of physical therapy. Partial rupture may or may not require surgical intervention depending on the extent of injury but cast immobilization is a common requirement.