The Achilles tendon is a conjoined tendon composed of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles with occasional contribution from the plantaris muscle, and it inserts on the calcaneal tuberosity. The plantaris muscle is absent in 6% to 8% of individuals. The Achilles tendon is approximately 15-cm long and is the largest and strongest tendon in the human body. The tendon spirals approximately 90? from its origin to its insertion and this twisting produces an area of stress approximately 2- to 5-cm proximal to its insertion. The tendon has no true synovial sheath; instead it is wrapped in a paratenon. The Achilles tendon experiences the highest loads of any tendon in the body, and bears tensile loads up to 10 times body weight during athletic activities. The tendon most commonly ruptures in a region 2- to 6-cm proximal to its insertion.
The tendon is susceptible to injury and can rupture during vigorous activities such as running and jumping. Rupture can also occur as a result of gradual wear. After becoming chronically weakened, it can rupture during non-stress activities like walking.
It happens suddenly, often without warning. There is often a popping sound when the tendon ruptures. The patient usually feel as if someone has kicked their heel from the rear, only to turn around to find nobody there. There is acute pain and swelling in the back of the heel due to bleeding from the tendon rupture. The patient will have difficulty walking as they cannot toe off without pain. This causes them to walk with a limp.
The diagnosis is usually made on the basis of symptoms, the history of the injury and a doctor's examination. The doctor may look at your walking and observe whether you can stand on tiptoe. She/he may test the tendon using a method called Thompson's test (also known as the calf squeeze test). In this test, you will be asked to lie face down on the examination bench and to bend your knee. The doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles at the back of your leg, and observe how the ankle moves. If the Achilles tendon is OK, the calf squeeze will make the foot point briefly away from the leg (a movement called plantar flexion). This is quite an accurate test for Achilles tendon rupture. If the diagnosis is uncertain, an ultrasound or MRI scan may help. An Achilles tendon rupture is sometimes difficult to diagnose and can be missed on first assessment. It is important for both doctors and patients to be aware of this and to look carefully for an Achilles tendon rupture if it is suspected.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment typically involves wearing a brace or cast for the first six weeks following the injury to allow time for the ends of the torn tendon to reattach on their own. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may be taken during this time to reduce pain and swelling. Once the tendon has reattached, physical therapy will be needed to strengthen the muscles and tendon. A full recovery is usually made within four to six months.
Surgery for Achilles tendon rupture requires an operation to open the skin and physically suture (sew) the ends of the tendon back together, has a lower incidence of re-rupture than nonsurgical treatment. Allows return to pre-injury activities sooner and at a higher level of functioning with less shrinkage of muscle. Risks are associated with surgery, anesthesia, infection, skin breakdown, scarring, bleeding, accidental nerve injury, higher cost, and blood clots in the leg are possible after surgery. Surgery has been the treatment of choice for the competitive athlete or those with a high level of physical activity, for those with a delay in treatment or diagnosis, and for those whose tendons have ruptured again.