runner with injured achilles tendonAchilles tendon ruptures are the most common tendon rupture of the legs and feet. Often serious enough to require surgery, it is an injury that shouldn’t be ignored. If you are an active individual, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of this issue, as well as your treatment options.

What Is an Achilles Tendon Rupture

The Achilles tendon, a band of tissue that connects a muscle to a bone, runs down the back of the lower leg and connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. Also known as a “heel cord,” this tendon is an important function of walking, as it helps to raise the heel off the ground.

An Achilles tendon rupture occurs when the tendon is stretched beyond capacity. This causes a complete or partial tear. This can happen for a few different reasons, including forceful jumping or a quick acceleration of speed while running. Sometimes this injury is also the result of simply tripping and falling. Since Achilles tendon ruptures do not discriminate with age, the causes are varied depending upon the individual’s unique activity level. A less common cause of an Achilles tendon rupture is illness or particular medications that can weaken the tendon.

Despite it being an injury for any age, it is often seen in “weekend warriors”—middle-aged men and women who participate in sports during their spare time. This consistently inconsistent form of exercise can cause strain on the body and lead to a tear.

Signs and Symptoms of an Achilles Tendon Rupture

A person suffering from an Achilles tendon rupture may experience the following:

  • Sudden sharp pain in the back of the calf or ankle, which then reduces to a dull ache
  • A popping or snapping sensation in the calf or ankle
  • Swelling on the back of the leg anywhere between the calf and heel
  • A visible soft-tissue depression in the posterior of the ankle
  • Sudden difficulty walking, especially on an incline, due to the inability to easily rise up on the toes

Some patients who have experienced a rupture describe the initial experience as feeling as if they have been kicked or hit in the heel. Others may hear an audible “pop” noise.

An Achilles tendon rupture is usually diagnosed by a podiatrist, who will ask you questions about how you injured your foot and whether you have previously experienced such an incident. He will also feel around for a defect in the tendon that suggests a tear has occurred. Range of motion and muscle strength are compared to the uninjured foot. Finally, if the Achilles tendon is truly ruptured, the patient will visibly struggle to push down onto the foot or rise up on the toes. If it is still not clear whether or not the tendon has been torn, the doctor might order an MRI or other sort of imaging test.

Treatment and Solutions

If you think you have ruptured your Achilles tendon, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Until you can see the doctor, use the R.I.C.E. method:

  • Rest. Keep weight off of the injured foot as much as possible, as walking will cause pain and more damage.
  • Ice. Keep ice on the foot to reduce swelling and help with the pain. Never place ice directly onto the skin. Instead, fill a bag with ice and wrap it with a thin towel.
  • Compression. Wrap the ankle and heel for support.
  • Elevate. Keep your leg elevated so that it’s even or slightly above your heart. This will reduce swelling.

A podiatrist will present both surgical and non-surgical options, depending upon the severity of the tear.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Non-surgical treatment is ideal for minor ruptures and for patients who are less physically active on a regular basis. Some people also are unable to undergo surgery due to certain medical conditions. Non-surgical treatments involve using a cast, walking boot, or a brace to limit the range of motion until the tendon has had sufficient time to recover.

Unfortunately, non-surgical treatment comes with the risk of  reinjury at some point.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is an option for active individuals and those who have experienced quite a severe tear. Surgery will aid in a quicker recovery, as well as decrease the likelihood of a reoccurrence. There are a few different surgical techniques available to repair the rupture. A podiatrist will work with you to customize a surgical plan specific to your injury. Following the surgery, there will be an improvement in push-off strength and muscle function, as well as an expanded range of motion.

The Importance of Seeing a Podiatrist

Even if you feel your rupture is minor, it is important to see a podiatrist in order to get a proper diagnosis, prevent further damage, and get appropriate treatment as soon as possible. At InStride Carolina Podiatry Group, we have seen patients who have waited too long to seek help following an Achilles tendon rupture. Our doctors are knowledgeable and ready to get you back on your feet as soon as possible. Call us today to schedule an appointment.