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.
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.
If the Achilles tendon is ruptured you may experience a sudden pain in the back of your leg, as if someone had kicked you, followed by, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty to stand on tiptoe and push the leg when walking. A popping or snapping sound may be heard when the injury occurs. You may also feel a gap or depression in the tendon, just above heel bone. Ruptures usually occurs in those aged 30 - 70 years, during a sudden forceful push off from the foot. Without proper healing of the tendon, you will have a permanent limp and weakness when using the leg.
A physician usually can make this diagnosis with a good physical examination and history. X-rays usually are not taken. A simple test of squeezing the calf muscles while lying on your stomach should indicate if the tendon is still connected (the foot should point). This test isolates the connection between the calf muscle and tendon and eliminates other tendons that may still allow weak movement. A word of caution, Achilles tendon rupture is often misdiagnosed as a strain or minor tendon injury. Swelling and the continuing ability to weakly point your toes can confuse the diagnosis. Ultrasound and MRI are tests that can assist in difficult diagnosis. Depending on the degree of injury, these tests can also assist in determining which treatment may be best.
Non Surgical Treatment
You may need to wear a plaster cast, brace or boot on your lower leg for six to eight weeks to help the tendon heal. During this time, your doctor will change the cast a number of times to make sure your tendon heals in the right way. If your tendon is partially ruptured, your doctor will probably advise you to have this treatment instead of surgery. It?s also suitable for people who aren't very physically active. However, there is a greater risk that your tendon will rupture again, compared with surgery. Your doctor will advise you which treatment is best for you.
Surgical repair is a common method of treatment of acute Achilles rupture in North America because, despite a higher risk of overall complications, it has been believed to offer a reduced risk of rerupture. However, more recent trials, particularly those using functional bracing with early range of motion, have challenged this belief. The aim of this meta-analysis was to compare surgical treatment and conservative treatment with regard to the rerupture rate, the overall rate of other complications, return to work, calf circumference, and functional outcomes, as well as to examine the effects of early range of motion on the rerupture rate.
To help prevent an Achilles tendon injury, it is a good practice to perform stretching and warm-up exercises before any participating in any activities. Gradually increase the intensity and length of time of activity. Muscle conditioning may help to strengthen the muscles in the body.