The Achilles tendon is situated above the heel and forms the lower part of the calf muscles. It is a continuation of the two calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, and it attaches to the heel bone. It is the strongest tendon in the human body and must withstand great forces. Its function is to transmit the force produced by the calf muscles to lift the heel and produce the push off during walking, running and jumping. The Achilles can produce force of up to seven times body weight. This shows just how much force it has to withstand during sporting activities, such as sprinting, jumping and turning.
Often an Achilles rupture can occur spontaneously without any prodromal symptoms. Unfortunately the first "pop" or "snap" that you experience is your Achilles tendon rupture. Achilles tendon rupture most commonly occurs in the middle-aged male athlete (the weekend warrior who is engaging in a pickup game of basketball, for example). Injury often occurs during recreational sports that require bursts of jumping, pivoting, and running. Most often these are tennis, racquetball, squash, basketball, soccer, softball and badminton. Achilles rupture can happen in the following situations. You make a forceful push-off with your foot while your knee is straightened by the powerful thigh muscles. One example might be starting a foot race or jumping. You suddenly trip or stumble, and your foot is thrust in front to break a fall, forcefully over stretching the tendon. You fall from a significant height. It does appear that previous history of Achilles tendonitis results in a degenerative tendon, which can grow weak and thin with age and lack of use. Then it becomes prone to injury or rupture. Certain illnesses (such as arthritis and diabetes) and medications (such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics) can also increase the risk of rupture.
If the Achilles tendon is ruptured you may experience a sudden pain in the back of your leg, as if someone had kicked you, followed by, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty to stand on tiptoe and push the leg when walking. A popping or snapping sound may be heard when the injury occurs. You may also feel a gap or depression in the tendon, just above heel bone. Ruptures usually occurs in those aged 30 - 70 years, during a sudden forceful push off from the foot. Without proper healing of the tendon, you will have a permanent limp and weakness when using the leg.
Your doctor diagnoses the rupture based on symptoms, history of the injury and physical examination. Your doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles, if the Achilles tendon is intact, there will be flexion movement of the foot, if it is ruptured, there will be no movement observed.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor will advise you exactly when to start your home physical therapy program, what exercises to do, how much, and for how long to continue them. Alphabet Range of Motion exercises. Typically, the first exercise to be started (once out of a non-removable cast). While holding your knee and leg still (or cross your leg), you simply write the letters of the alphabet in an imaginary fashion while moving your foot and ankle (pretend that the tip of your toe is the tip of a pencil). Motion the capital letter A, then B, then C, all the way through Z. Do this exercise three times per day (or as your doctor advises). Freeze a paper cup with water, and then use the ice to massage the tendon area as deeply as tolerated. The massage helps to reduce the residual inflammation and helps to reduce the scarring and bulkiness of the tendon at the injury site. Do the ice massage for 15-20 minutes, three times per day (or as your doctor advises). Calf Strength exercises. This exercise is typically delayed and not used in the initial stages of rehabilitation, begin only when your doctor advises. This exercise is typically done while standing on just the foot of the injured side. Sometimes, the doctor will advise you to start with standing on both feet. Stand on a step with your forefoot on the step and your heel off the step. The heel and forefoot should be level (neither on your tip toes nor with your heel down). Lower your heel very slowly as low as it will go, then rise back up to the level starting position, again very slowly. This is not a fast exercise. Repeat the exercise as tolerated. The number of repetitions may be very limited at first. Progress the number of repetitions as tolerated. Do this exercise one to two times per day (or as your doctor advises).
An Achilles tendon rupture is a complete tear of the fibrous tissue that connects the heel to the calf muscle. This is often caused by a sudden movement that overextends the tendon and usually occurs while running or playing sports such as basketball or racquetball. Achilles tendon rupture can affect anyone, but occurs most often in middle-aged men.