The Achilles tendon is the confluence of the independent tendons of the gastrocnemius and soleus, which fuse to become the Achilles tendon approximately 5 to 6 cm proximal to its insertion on the posterior surface of the calcaneus. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, via the Achilles tendon, function as the chief plantarflexors of the ankle joint. This musculotendinous unit provides the primary propulsive force for walking, running, and jumping. The normal Achilles tendon can withstand repetitive loads near its ultimate tensile strength, which approach 6 to 8 times body weight.
The Achilles tendon is a strong bands of fibrous connective tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. When the muscle contracts, the tendon transmits the power of this contraction to the heel bone, producing movement. The Achilles tendon ruptures because the load applied to it is greater than the tendon's ability to withstand that load. This usually occurs as a result of a sudden, quick movement where there is a forceful stretch of the tendon or a contraction of the muscles eg: jumping, sprinting, or pushing off to serve in tennis. This occurs most often in sports that require a lot of stopping and starting (acceleration-deceleration sports) such as tennis, basketball, netball and squash. The Achilles tendon is on average 15cm in length. Most ruptures occur 2-6cm above where the tendon inserts into the heel bone. This is the narrowest portion of the Achilles tendon and is also the area with the poorest blood supply. achilles tendon rupture is most common when the muscles and tendon have not been adequately stretched and warmed up prior to exercise, or when the muscles are fatigued. the Achilles tendon has a poor blood supply, which makes it susceptible to injury and slow to heal after injury. During exercise the amount of blood able to travel to the tendon is decreased, further increasing the risk of rupture. Most experts agree that there are no warning signs of an impending rupture. However, frequent episodes of Achilles tendonitis (tendon inflammation) can weaken the tendon and make it more susceptible to rupture.
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. These symptoms require prompt medical attention to prevent further damage. Until the patient is able to see a doctor, the "R.I.C.E." method should be used. This involves, rest. Stay off the injured foot and ankle, since walking can cause pain or further damage. Ice. Apply a bag of ice covered with a thin towel to reduce swelling and pain. Do not put ice directly against the skin. Compression. Wrap the foot and ankle in an elastic bandage to prevent further swelling. Elevation. Keep the leg elevated to reduce the swelling. It should be even with or slightly above heart level.
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
Achilles tendon ruptures can be treated non-operatively or operatively. Both of these treatment approaches have advantages and disadvantages. In general, younger patients with no medical problems may tend to do better with operative treatment, whereas patients with significant medical problems or older age may be best served with non-operative treatment. However, the decision of how the Achilles tendon rupture is treated should be based on each individual patient after the advantages and disadvantages of both treatment options are reviewed. It is important to realize that while Achilles tendon ruptures can be treated either non-operatively or operatively, they must be treated. A neglected Achilles tendon rupture (i.e. one where the tendon ends are not kept opposed) will lead to marked problems of the leg in walking, which may eventually lead to other limb and joint problems. Furthermore, late reconstruction of non-treated Achilles tendon rupture is significantly more complex than timely treatment.
There are two different types of surgeries; open surgery and percutaneous surgery. During an open surgery an incision is made in the back of the leg and the Achilles tendon is stitched together. In a complete or serious rupture the tendon of plantaris or another vestigial muscle is harvested and wrapped around the Achilles tendon, increasing the strength of the repaired tendon. If the tissue quality is poor, e.g. the injury has been neglected, the surgeon might use a reinforcement mesh (collagen, Artelon or other degradable material). In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions, rather than one large incision, and sews the tendon back together through the incision(s). Surgery may be delayed for about a week after the rupture to let the swelling go down. For sedentary patients and those who have vasculopathy or risks for poor healing, percutaneous surgical repair may be a better treatment choice than open surgical repair.