Overview A rupture of the Achilles tendon means that there has been either a complete, or partial, tear of the tendon which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Usually this occurs just above insertion on the heel bone, although it can happen anywhere along the course of the tendon. Causes 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. Symptoms Patients often describe a feeling of being kicked or hit with a baseball bat in the back of the heel during athletic activity. They are unable to continue the activity and have an extreme loss of strength with the inability to effectively walk. On physical examination there is often a defect that can be felt in the tendon just above the heel. A diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is commonly made on physical exam. An MRI may be ordered to confirm the suspicion of a tear or to determine the extent of the tear. Diagnosis During the clinical examination, the patient will have significantly reduced ankle plantar flexion strength on the involved side. When the tendon is palpated with one finger on either side, the tendon can be followed from the calcaneus to where it "disappears" in the area of the rupture and to where it then returns 2 to 3 cm proximal to the rupture. If the injury is recent, the patient indicates that her pain is localized at the site of the rupture. The defect eventually fills with blood and edema and the skin over the area becomes ecchymotic. Non Surgical Treatment Initial treatment for sprains and strains should occur as soon as possible. Remember RICE! Rest the injured part. Pain is the body's signal to not move an injury. Ice the injury. This will limit the swelling and help with the spasm. Compress the injured area. This again, limits the swelling. Be careful not to apply a wrap so tightly that it might act as a tourniquet and cut off the blood supply. Elevate the injured part. This lets gravity help reduce the swelling by allowing fluid and blood to drain downhill to the heart. Over-the-counter pain medication is an option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is helpful for pain, but ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) might be better, because these medications relieve both pain and inflammation. Remember to follow the guidelines on the bottle for appropriate amounts of medicine, especially for children and teens. Surgical Treatment While it is possible to treat an Achilles tendon rupture without surgery, this is not ideal since the maximum strength of the muscle and tendon rarely returns. The reason is the ends of the tendon are ruptured in a very irregular manner, almost like the ends of a paint brush. As soon as the tendon ruptures, the calf muscle (gastrocnemius muscle) continues to pull on the tendon and the end of the ruptured tendon pulls back into the leg, which is called retraction. Once the tendon retracts, it is never possible to get sufficient strength back without surgery, because the muscle no longer functions at the correct biomechanical length and is now stretched out. There are patients for whom surgery cannot be performed, in particular, due to existing medical conditions that may add to potential for complications following surgery. For these patients, a specially designed boot that positions the foot correctly and takes the pressure and tension off the muscle and tendon is used. Most importantly, a cast is never used because it causes permanent shrinkage (atrophy) of the calf muscle. The special boot permits pressure on the foot with walking. The boot also has a hinge to permit movement of the ankle. Many studies of Achilles tendon ruptures have shown that this movement of the foot in the boot while walking is ideal for tendon healing. If surgery is not recommended, it is essential to obtain special tests to check that the ends of the tendon are lying next to each other so that healing can occur. The best test to do this is an ultrasound and not an MRI. Prevention Here are some suggestions to help to prevent this injury. Corticosteroid medication such as prednisolone, should be used carefully and the dose should be reduced if possible. But note that there are many conditions where corticosteroid medication is important or lifesaving. Quinolone antibiotics should be used carefully in people aged over 60 or who are taking steroids.