The largest tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon is a cord connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. Also called the ?cord of Achilles,? the tendon gets its name from the hero of Greek myth. According to legend, Achilles was invulnerable everywhere but his heel, where a poisoned arrow eventually felled him. Because the blood supply to the Achilles tendon lessens with age, the tendon becomes vulnerable to inflammation and rupture, a fact which makes it a true ?Achilles heel? for many older patients. Achilles tendon injuries are also common among athletes and those who engage in more physically demanding activity.
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 1/2 inches (about 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 also 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, especially in sports that involve jumping, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
It happens suddenly, often without warning. There is often a popping sound when the tendon ruptures. The patient usually feel as if someone has kicked their heel from the rear, only to turn around to find nobody there. There is acute pain and swelling in the back of the heel due to bleeding from the tendon rupture. The patient will have difficulty walking as they cannot toe off without pain. This causes them to walk with a limp.
During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect your lower leg for tenderness and swelling. In many cases, doctors can feel a gap in your tendon if it has ruptured completely. The doctor may also ask you to kneel on a chair or lie on your stomach with your feet hanging over the end of the exam table. He or she may then squeeze your calf muscle to see if your foot will automatically flex. If it doesn't, you probably have ruptured your Achilles tendon. If there's a question about the extent of your Achilles tendon injury, whether it's completely or only partially ruptured, your doctor may order an ultrasound or MRI scan. These painless procedures create images of the tissues of your body.
Non Surgical Treatment
Pain medicines can help decrease pain and swelling. A cast may be needed for 2 months or more. Your foot will be positioned in the cast with your toes pointing slightly down. Your caregiver will change your cast and your foot position several times while the tendon heals. Do not move or put weight on your foot until your caregiver tells you it is okay. A leg brace or splint may be needed to help keep your foot from moving while your tendon heals. Heel lifts are wedges put into your shoe or cast. Heel lifts help decrease pressure and keep your foot in the best position for your tendon to heal. Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. The edges of your tendon may need to be stitched back together. You may need a graft to patch the tear. A graft is a piece of another tendon or artificial material.
Surgical techniques for rupture repair are varied but usually involve reapproximation of the torn ends of the Achilles tendon, sometimes reinforced by the gastrocsoleus aponeurosis or plantaris tendon. Open reconstruction is undertaken using a medial longitudinal approach. Studies indicate that patients who undergo percutaneous, rather than an open, Achilles tendon rupture repair have a minimal rate of infection but a high rate of sural nerve entrapment (16.7% of treated cases).
To reduce your chance of developing Achilles tendon problems, follow the following tips. Stretch and strengthen calf muscles. Stretch your calf to the point at which you feel a noticeable pull but not pain. Don't bounce during a stretch. Calf-strengthening exercises can also help the muscle and tendon absorb more force and prevent injury. Vary your exercises. Alternate high-impact sports, such as running, with low-impact sports, such as walking, biking or swimming. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your Achilles tendons, such as hill running and jumping activities. Choose running surfaces carefully. Avoid or limit running on hard or slippery surfaces. Dress properly for cold-weather training and wear well-fitting athletic shoes with proper cushioning in the heels. Increase training intensity slowly. Achilles tendon injuries commonly occur after abruptly increasing training intensity. Increase the distance, duration and frequency of your training by no more than 10 percent each week.