The Achilles tendon is a conjoined tendon composed of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles with occasional contribution from the plantaris muscle, and it inserts on the calcaneal tuberosity. The plantaris muscle is absent in 6% to 8% of individuals. The Achilles tendon is approximately 15-cm long and is the largest and strongest tendon in the human body. The tendon spirals approximately 90? from its origin to its insertion and this twisting produces an area of stress approximately 2- to 5-cm proximal to its insertion. The tendon has no true synovial sheath; instead it is wrapped in a paratenon. The Achilles tendon experiences the highest loads of any tendon in the body, and bears tensile loads up to 10 times body weight during athletic activities. The tendon most commonly ruptures in a region 2- to 6-cm proximal to its insertion.
As with any muscle or tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon can be torn if there is a high force or stress on it. This can happen with activities which involve a forceful push off with the foot, for example, in football, running, basketball, diving, and tennis. The push off movement uses a strong contraction of the calf muscles which can stress the Achilles tendon too much. The Achilles tendon can also be damaged by injuries such as falls, if the foot is suddenly forced into an upward-pointing position, this movement stretches the tendon. Another possible injury is a deep cut at the back of the ankle, which might go into the tendon. Sometimes the Achilles tendon is weak, making it more prone to rupture. Factors that weaken the Achilles tendon are as follows. Corticosteroid medication (such as prednisolone) - mainly if it is used as long-term treatment rather than a short course. Corticosteroid injection near the Achilles tendon. Certain rare medical conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome, where the body makes too much of its own corticosteroid hormones. Increasing age. Tendonitis (inflammation) of the Achilles tendon. Other medical conditions which can make the tendon more prone to rupture; for example, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus. Certain antibiotic medicines may slightly increase the risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture. These are the quinolone antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin. The risk of having an Achilles tendon rupture with these antibiotics is actually very low, and mainly applies if you are also taking corticosteroid medication or are over the age of about 60.
Patients who suffer an acute rupture of the Achilles tendon often report hearing a ?pop?or ?snap.? Patients usually have severe pain the back of the lower leg near the heel. This may or may not be accompanied by swelling. Additionally, because the function of the Achilles tendon is to enable plantarflexion (bending the foot downward), patients often have difficulty walking or standing up on their toes. With a complete rupture of the tendon, the foot will not move. In cases where the diagnosis is equivocal, your physician may order an MRI of the leg to diagnose a rupture of the Achilles tendon.
The diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture can be made easily by an orthopedic surgeon. The defect in the tendon is easy to see and to palpate. No x-ray, MRI or other tests are necessary.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initial treatment for sprains and strains should occur as soon as possible. Remember RICE! Rest the injured part. Pain is the body's signal to not move an injury. Ice the injury. This will limit the swelling and help with the spasm. Compress the injured area. This again, limits the swelling. Be careful not to apply a wrap so tightly that it might act as a tourniquet and cut off the blood supply. Elevate the injured part. This lets gravity help reduce the swelling by allowing fluid and blood to drain downhill to the heart. Over-the-counter pain medication is an option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is helpful for pain, but ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) might be better, because these medications relieve both pain and inflammation. Remember to follow the guidelines on the bottle for appropriate amounts of medicine, especially for children and teens.
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.
You can help to reduce your risk of an injury to your Achilles tendon by doing the following. When you start a new exercise regime, gradually increase the intensity and the length of time you spend being active. Warm up your muscles before you exercise and cool them down after you have finished. The benefit of stretching before or after exercise is unproven. However, it may help to stretch your calf muscles, which will help to lengthen your Achilles tendon, before you exercise. Wear appropriate and well-fitting shoes when you exercise.