Q & A
What is an Achilles Tendon Rupture?
An Achilles tendon rupture is a complete or partial tear of the tendon that occurs when the tendon is stretched beyond its capacity. A person with a ruptured Achilles tendon should seek treatment from Dr. Tien, the leading foot and ankle specialist in Orange County immediately.
The Achilles tendon ruptures most often in people participating in sports that involves forceful jumping or pivoting, or sudden accelerations of running which can overstretch the tendon and cause a tear. Recreational sports that may cause the Achilles Tendon to rupture include tennis, football, basketball and gymnastics. An injury to the tendon can also result from falling or tripping. Less commonly, illness or medications, such as steroids or certain antibiotics, may weaken the tendon and contribute to ruptures.
Signs and Symptoms
When the Achilles tendon ruptures, you may experience one or more of the following:
Sudden, severe pain (which feels like a kick or a stab) in the back of the ankle or calf – often subsiding into a dull ache
Hear an audible popping or feel a 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
Your doctor diagnoses the rupture based on symptoms, history of the injury and physical examination. Your doctor may also feel a gap or depression in the tendon, just above heel bone. Your doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles to test the integrity of the Achilles Tendon. Your doctor may also order imaging modalities such as MRI or ultrasound to aid in diagnosis or for surgical planning.
An Achilles tendon rupture can be treated using non-surgical or surgical methods. Non-surgical treatment involves wearing a cast or special boot for several weeks to protect and immobilize the ruptured tendon while it heals in an end-to-end fashion. Surgical repair involves opening the skin and suturing the torn tendon ends together. Surgery helps to decrease the recurrence of the Achilles tendon in comparison to the non-surgical treatment. With either treatment, physical therapy is recommended to improve the strength and flexibility of leg muscles and the Achilles tendon.
To help prevent an Achilles tendon injury, it is a good practice to perform stretching and warm-up exercises before participating in any exercises or sports activities. Gradually increasing the intensity and length of time of an activity helps reduce risk of an injury also. Muscle conditioning may help to strengthen the muscles in the body.
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