The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. It helps you rise on your toes and push off on your foot while walking. Overstretching of the tendon can lead to the rupture or tear of the Achilles tendon. The tears can be either partial or complete.
Achilles tears are caused by a large amount of stress being placed on the Achilles tendon stretching it to tearing point as when jumping or falling from a great height. Risk factors include:
- Age: Achilles tears occur commonly between the ages of 30 to 40 years.
- Sex: Men are 5 times more likely to tear their Achilles tendon compared to women.
- Recreational sports: Participating in sports such as soccer, basketball or tennis, which involve sudden starts and stops.
- Steroid injections into the ankle: These injections, indicated for ankle pain or inflammation, may weaken and tear the Achilles tendon.
- Certain medications: Certain antibiotics increase the likelihood of Achilles tears.
Although some people do not have any signs or symptoms with Achilles tears, in most cases,you may experience popping or snapping sound at the time of injury, followed by severe pain and swelling near the heel. You will be unable to stand on your toes or walk properly.
A diagnosis can be made based on a thorough physical examination, where certain tests are performed to evaluate the function of the Achilles tendon. Your doctor may also be able to feel a gap in the tendon if the tear is complete. To further evaluate the extent of the tear to the Achilles tendon your doctor may order an MRI or ultrasound.
Treatment options will vary depending on your age, activity level and the severity of the tear. Nonsurgical treatment involves immobilizing the ankle in a cast or boot, allowing the tendon time to heal. Such a conservative approach is usually appropriate for older patients who are not very active. In younger patients who are more active, it is beneficial to surgically repair the Achilles tear by stitching the torn edges together. You should be able to resume your normal activities within 4 to 6 months with the aid of physical therapy.