Understanding an Achilles Tendon Rupture
The Achilles tendon, located at the back of the ankle, connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. It plays a vital role in walking, running, and jumping. When this tendon ruptures, you may hear a popping or snapping sound and feel a sharp, sudden pain near the heel at the back of the ankle.
Symptoms of an Achilles Tendon Rupture
- Sudden sharp pain. One of the most noticeable symptoms of an Achilles tendon rupture is a sudden, sharp pain at the back of the ankle or calf. You will usually feel pain that is instant, severe, and stabbing.
- Swelling. Shortly after the rupture, swelling around the ankle and lower leg may occur. The affected area may become visibly swollen and tender to the touch. The swelling is a result of internal bleeding and inflammation caused by the rupture.
- Difficulty walking or standing on your toes. An Achilles tendon rupture can significantly impact mobility. Walking or standing on the affected leg may be challenging or impossible due to pain, weakness, and a feeling of instability. The ability to push off the ground while walking or standing on tiptoes is often diminished or lost.
- Visible gap. In some cases, a gap may be visible just above the heel. This gap looks like a small indentation in your skin, and your doctor may be able to feel it if you have a complete rupture.
- Limited range of motion. An Achilles tendon rupture can lead to a decreased range of motion in the ankle joint. Pointing the toes downward may be difficult or impossible. This limitation is due to the inability of the calf muscles to transmit force to the foot through the damaged tendon.
Common Causes of an Achilles Tendon Rupture
- Sudden movements. Making sudden, forceful movements that put excessive strain on the tendon can cause a rupture. This might happen during activities such as jumping, pivoting, or running, especially if there is a sudden change in direction or an explosive push-off.
- Sports injuries. Playing sports, such as basketball, football, tennis, or soccer, which require frequent jumping and rapid changes in direction, can put significant stress on the tendon.
- Stress and overuse. Over time, repetitive stress and overuse can lead to chronic degeneration of the Achilles tendon, making it more susceptible to rupture.
- Age-related changes. As people age, the Achilles tendon may weaken and become more prone to rupture. The blood supply to the tendon decreases, making it less flexible and more vulnerable to injuries.
- Prior injuries. Individuals who have previously experienced an Achilles tendon injury, such as tendonitis or a partial tear, may be at a higher risk of a complete rupture.
- Certain medications and medical conditions. Certain medications have been associated with an increased risk of Achilles tendon ruptures. Medical conditions that weaken the tendons, such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic kidney disease, can also contribute to the likelihood of a rupture.
- Improper footwear or training techniques. Wearing shoes that do not provide adequate support or engaging in improper training techniques can increase the risk of Achilles tendon injuries. Poor biomechanics and excessive stress on the tendon can lead to a rupture over time.
Treatment Options: Surgical vs. Non-Surgical
When faced with an Achilles tendon rupture, two primary treatment options are available: surgical repair or non-surgical management. Non-surgical methods often involve immobilization using a cast, brace, or walking boot coupled with physical therapy. While non-surgical treatment may be suitable for some patients, it does come with limitations. It is more commonly recommended for older individuals, less active individuals, and those with medical conditions that make surgery a higher risk.
Achilles tendon rupture surgery offers distinct advantages. It reattaches the torn ends of the tendon, allowing for improved strength, range of motion, and reduced risk of re-rupture. Achilles tendon surgery may be recommended for younger, more active individuals or those with a high-demand lifestyle who require full functional recovery. By directly addressing the rupture and providing a stronger tendon connection, surgical repair significantly lowers the chances of future tendon complications.
What to Discuss With Your Podiatrist Prior to Surgery
If you think you have an Achilles tendon rupture, it is essential to consult with an experienced podiatrist for an evaluation. A physical exam will be performed to diagnose the rupture, and your Grapevine Achilles tendon podiatrist will assess various factors, including your age, activity level, overall health, and the extent of the rupture, to provide the best treatment options. If surgery is recommended, you may need imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound to determine the extent of the rupture. During your consultation with your Grapevine foot doctor, there will be a lot to discuss.
Questions You Should Ask Your Grapevine Podiatrist
- What treatment options do you recommend for my Achilles tendon rupture, and what are the pros and cons of each?
- What are the risks of surgery and potential complications?
- What should I expect in terms of recovery after surgery?
- When will I be able to return to my normal activities?
- Will I need physical therapy?
- How often will I need follow-up appointments?
Untreated Achilles Tendon Rupture Complications
If an Achilles tendon rupture is not treated with either conservative measures or surgery, it can lead to various complications and long-term consequences. Without proper treatment, the tendon may not heal correctly, resulting in a weakened and shortened Achilles tendon. This can lead to persistent pain, limited mobility, and difficulty in walking or participating in physical activities. Additionally, untreated Achilles tendon ruptures can increase the risk of re-rupture or further injury to the tendon.