The Achilles tendon is the tough sinew that attaches the calf muscle to the back of the calcaneus, or heel bone. It is also known as the tendo calcaneus or the tendo Achilles and happens to be one of the longest tendons in the body. An Achilles tendon rupture occurs when the Achilles tendon is partially or completely broken or torn. The average age of patients who suffer Achilles tendon ruptures is 30 to 40 years. The male-to-female ratio is nearly 20 to 1.
People who commonly fall victim to Achilles rupture or tear include recreational athletes, people of old age, individuals with previous Achilles tendon tears or ruptures, previous tendon injections or quinolone use, extreme changes in training intensity or activity level, and participation in a new activity. Most cases of Achilles tendon rupture are traumatic sports injuries. The average age of patients is 29-40 years with a male-to-female ratio of nearly 20:1. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin, and glucocorticoids have been linked with an increased risk of Achilles tendon rupture. Direct steroid injections into the tendon have also been linked to rupture. Quinolone has been associated with Achilles tendinitis and Achilles tendon ruptures for some time. Quinolones are antibacterial agents that act at the level of DNA by inhibiting DNA Gyrase. DNA Gyrase is an enzyme used to unwind double stranded DNA which is essential to DNA Replication. Quinolone is specialized in the fact that it can attack bacterial DNA and prevent them from replicating by this process, and are frequently prescribed to the elderly. Approximately 2% to 6% of all elderly people over the age of 60 who have had Achilles ruptures can be attributed to the use of quinolones.
The classic sign of an Achilles' tendon rupture is a short sharp pain in the Achilles' area, which is sometimes accompanied by a snapping sound as the tendon ruptures. The pain usually subsides relatively quickly into an aching sensation. Other signs that are likely to be present subsequent to a rupture are the inability to stand on tiptoe, inability to push the foot off the ground properly resulting in a flat footed walk. With complete tears it may be possible to feel the two ends of tendon where it has snapped, however swelling to the area may mean this is impossible.
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
Nonsurgical method is generally undertaken in individuals who are old, inactive, and at high-risk for surgery. Other individuals who should not undergo surgery are those who have a wound infection/ulcer around the heel area. A large group of patients who may not be candidates for surgery include those with diabetes, those with poor blood supply to the foot, patients with nerve problems in the foot, and those who may not comply with rehabilitation. Nonsurgical management involves application of a short leg cast to the affected leg, with the ankle in a slightly flexed position. Maintaining the ankle in this position helps appose the tendons and improves healing. The leg is placed in a cast for six to 10 weeks and no movement of the ankle is allowed. Walking is allowed on the cast after a period of four to six weeks. When the cast is removed, a small heel lift is inserted in the shoe to permit better support for the ankle for an additional two to four weeks. Following this, physical therapy is recommended. The advantages of a nonsurgical approach are no risk of a wound infection or breakdown of skin and no risk of nerve injury. The disadvantages of the nonsurgical approach includes a slightly higher risk of Achilles tendon rupture and the surgery is much more complex if indeed a repair is necessary in future. In addition, the recuperative period after the nonsurgical approach is more prolonged.
The best treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon in an active individual is typically surgery. While an Achilles rupture can sometimes be treated with a cast, splint, brace, or other device that will keep your lower leg from moving, surgery provides less chance that the tendon will rupture again and offers more strength and a shorter recovery period. Surgery may be delayed for a period of a week after the rupture, to let the swelling go down. There are two types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon and both involve the surgeon sewing the tendon back together through the incision. Open surgery, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the back of the leg. Percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes a number of small incisions rather than one large incision. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue, the repair may be reinforced with other tendons.