The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body. It connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. However, this tendon is also the most common site of rupture or tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon due to overuse. Achilles tendon rupture is a partial or complete tear of the Achilles tendon. It comes on suddenly, sometimes with a popping sound, and can be debilitating. A full rupture is more severe, but less common, than a partial rupture. A full rupture splits the Achilles tendon so that it no longer connects the calf muscle to the heel: the calf muscle can no longer cause the foot to ?push off?, so normal walking is impossible. If it is a full rupture, then lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb will reveal a gap in the Achilles tendon. Partial and full Achilles tendon ruptures are most likely to occur in sports requiring sudden stretching, such as sprinting and racquet sports. Partial Achilles tendon tears are also common among middle and long distance runners.
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 2.5 inches (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 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, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
Symptoms include a sudden sharp pain in the achilles tendon which is often described as if being physically struck by an object or implement. A loud snapping noise or bang may also be heard at the time. A gap of 4 to 5 cm in the tendon can be felt which may be less obvious later as swelling increases. After a short while the athlete may be able to walk again but without the power to push off with the foot. There will be a significant loss of strength in the injured leg and the patient will be unable to stand on tip toes. There may be considerable swelling around the achilles tendon and a positive result for Thompson's test can help confirm the diagnosis.
Diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture is not difficult. Usually, the diagnosis is obvious after examination of the ankle and performing some easy foot maneuvers (such as attempting to stand on the toes). When an Achilles tendon rupture occurs, there is often clinical confirmation of tenderness and bruising around the heel. A gap is felt when the finger is passed over the heel area, where the rupture has developed. All individuals with a full-blown rupture of the tendon are unable to stand on their toes. There is no blood work required in making a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture. The following are three common radiological tests to make a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture. Plain X-rays of the foot may reveal swelling of the soft tissues around the ankle, other bone injury, or tendon calcification. Ultrasound is the next most commonly ordered test to document the injury and size of the tear. For a partial tear of the Achilles tendon, the diagnosis is not always obvious on a physical exam and hence an ultrasound is ordered. This painless procedure can make a diagnosis of partial/full Achilles tendon rupture rapidly. Ultrasound is a relatively inexpensive, fast, and reliable test. MRI is often ordered when diagnosis of tendon rupture is not obvious on ultrasound or a complex injury is suspected. MRI is an excellent imaging test to assess for presence of any soft-tissue trauma or fluid collection. More importantly, MRI can help detect presence of tendon thickening, bursitis, and partial tendon rupture. However, MRI is expensive and is not useful if there is any bone damage.
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.
The patient is positioned prone after administration of either general or regional anesthesia. A longitudinal incision is made on either the medial or lateral aspect of the tendon. If a lateral incision is chosen care must be taken to identify and protect the sural nerve. Length of the incision averages 3 to 10 cm. Once the paratenon is incised longitudinally, the tendon ends are easily identifies. These are then re-approximated with either a Bunnell or Kessler or Krackow type suture technique with nonabsorbable suture. Next, the epitenon is repaired with a cross stitch technique. The paratenon should be repaired if it will be useful to prevent adhesions. Finally, a meticulous skin closure will limit wound complications. An alternative method is to perform a percutaneous technique, with a small incision (ranging from 2-4 cm). A few salient points include: the incision should be extended as needed, no self-retaining retractors should be used, and meticulous paratenon and wound closure is essential. Postoperatively the patient is immobilized in an equinous splint (usually 10?-15?) for 2 weeks. Immobilization may be extended if there is any concern about wound healing. At the 2-week follow-up, full weight bearing is permitted using a solid removable boot. At 6 weeks, aggressive physical therapy is prescribed and the patient uses the boot only for outdoor activity. At 12 weeks postoperatively, no further orthosis is recommended.