The Achilles tendon is the strong band of tissue that connects the calf muscle to the heel. If stretched too far, the tendon can tear, or rupture, causing severe pain in the ankle and lower leg that can make it difficult or even impossible to walk. An Achilles tendon rupture, which may be partial or complete, often occurs as a result of repeated stress on the tendon while playing sports such as soccer or basketball. Although frequently resulting from the same stresses that cause Achilles tendonitis, a rupture of the Achilles tendon is a far more serious injury, usually requiring surgical repair.
Risk Factors for Achilles Tendon Rupture
An Achilles tendon may rupture if it has been previously over-stretched or weakened by:
- Poor stretching habits prior to exercise
- Tight or weak calf muscles
- Wearing shoes that do not fit properly
- Engaging in physical activity after a long break
- Taking certain types of antibiotics, such as Cipro or Levaquin
- Having steroid injections into the ankle joint
- Running on difficult terrain or in extremely cold weather
Being a man, being obese, having flat feet or having diabetes or hypertension increase the risk for an Achilles tendon rupture.
Symptoms of Achilles Tendon Rupture
Achilles tendon ruptures are usually caused by traumatic injury, frequently accompanied by a popping or snapping sound as the tendon tears. Patients usually experience severe pain and swelling near the heel of the foot and are unable to walk normally or bend their foot. Because these symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, such as bursitis and tendonitis, it is important to seek prompt medical attention in order to determine the correct diagnosis.
Treatment of Achilles Tendon Rupture
Treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture depends on the severity of the condition, but most often requires surgery to repair the tendon and restore function to the foot. Less severe cases may only require a cast or walking boot for several weeks, although the risk of a recurring rupture is higher with this treatment than with surgical repair. When surgery is necessary, the tendon is reattached and sometimes reinforced with other tendon tissue. Physical rehabilitation for several months is usually necessary after an Achilles tendon rupture, whether or not an operation is performed.