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.
Your Achilles tendon helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon located within 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section may be predisposed to rupture because it gets less blood flow, which may impair its ability to heal. Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. Common examples include increasing the intensity of sports participation, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
The pain from an Achilles tendon rupture is usually felt in the back of the lower leg, in the area 2 to 6 cm. above the Achilles tendon's attachment to the calcaneus. Individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture often describe a "pop" or similar feeling at the time of the injury. A "hole" or defect in the Achilles tendon can usually be felt under the skin in this area. A limp and inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot are usually present. If the affected foot does not plantar flex when the calf muscles are squeezed an Achilles tendon rupture is very likely.
The diagnosis is usually made on the basis of symptoms, the history of the injury and a doctor's examination. The doctor may look at your walking and observe whether you can stand on tiptoe. She/he may test the tendon using a method called Thompson's test (also known as the calf squeeze test). In this test, you will be asked to lie face down on the examination bench and to bend your knee. The doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles at the back of your leg, and observe how the ankle moves. If the Achilles tendon is OK, the calf squeeze will make the foot point briefly away from the leg (a movement called plantar flexion). This is quite an accurate test for Achilles tendon rupture. If the diagnosis is uncertain, an ultrasound or MRI scan may help. An Achilles tendon rupture is sometimes difficult to diagnose and can be missed on first assessment. It is important for both doctors and patients to be aware of this and to look carefully for an Achilles tendon rupture if it is suspected.
Non Surgical Treatment
The best treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon often depends on your age, activity level and the severity of your injury. In general, younger and more active people often choose surgery to repair a completely ruptured Achilles tendon while older people are more likely to opt for nonsurgical treatment. Recent studies, however, have shown fairly equal effectiveness of both operative and nonoperative management. Nonsurgical treatment. This approach typically involves wearing a cast or walking boot with wedges to elevate your heel; this allows the ends of your torn tendon to heal. This method can be effective, and it avoids the risks, such as infection, associated with surgery. However, the likelihood of re-rupture may be higher with a nonsurgical approach, and recovery can take longer. If re-rupture occurs, surgical repair may be more difficult.
The procedure generally involves making an incision in the back of your lower leg and stitching the torn tendon together. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue, the repair may be reinforced with other tendons. Surgical complications can include infection and nerve damage. Infection rates are reduced in surgeries that employ smaller incisions. Rehabilitation. After treatment, whether surgical or nonsurgical, you'll go through a rehabilitation program involving physical therapy exercises to strengthen your leg muscles and Achilles tendon. Most people return to their former level of activity within four to six months.