Common Diagnoses:
Achilles Tendon Rupture

Overview

Achilles tendon rupture is an injury that affects the back of your lower leg. It mainly occurs in people playing recreational sports, but it can happen to anyone.

The Achilles tendon is a strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. If you overstretch your Achilles tendon, it can tear (rupture) completely or just partially.

If your Achilles tendon ruptures, you might hear a pop, followed by an immediate sharp pain in the back of your ankle and lower leg that is likely to affect your ability to walk properly. Surgery is often performed to repair the rupture. For many people, however, nonsurgical treatment works just as well. 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 walk and move your foot.

Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon situated within 2 1/2 inches (about 6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section might be prone to rupture because blood flow is poor, which also can impair its ability to heal.

Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the 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

Symptoms

Although it’s possible to have no signs or symptoms with an Achilles tendon rupture, most people have:

The feeling of having been kicked in the calf
Pain, possibly severe, and swelling near the heel
An inability to bend the foot downward or “”push off”” the injured leg when walking
An inability to stand on the toes on the injured leg
A popping or snapping sound when the injury occurs
When to see your doctor
Seek medical advice immediately if you hear a pop in your heel, especially if you can’t walk properly afterward.

Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect your lower leg for tenderness and swelling. Your doctor might be able to feel a gap in your tendon if it has ruptured completely.

The doctor might 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 might 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 might order an ultrasound or MRI scan. These painless procedures create images of the tissues of your body.

Treatment

Surgery
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 might be reinforced with other tendons.

Complications can include infection and nerve damage. Minimally invasive procedures reduce infection rates over those of open procedures. Rehabilitation
After treatment, you’ll have 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. It’s important to continue strength and stability training after that because some problems can persist for up to a year.

A type of rehabilitation known as functional rehabilitation also focuses on coordination of body parts and how you move. The purpose is to return you to your highest level of performance, as an athlete or in your everyday life.

One review study concluded that if you have access to functional rehabilitation, you might do just as well with nonsurgical treatment as with surgery. More study is needed.

Rehabilitation after either surgical or nonsurgical management is also trending toward moving earlier and progressing faster. Studies are ongoing in this area also.