The Achilles tendon is a strong, fibrous cord present behind the ankle that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. It is used when you walk, run, and jump. When the Achilles tendon becomes thin, weak, or if it is not used, it may be susceptible to injury or damage. Achilles tendon ruptures occur most often in middle-aged athletes participating in sports that involve running, pivoting, and jumping. Recreational sports that may cause Achilles tendon rupture include tennis, racquetball, basketball, and badminton.
If the Achilles tendon ruptures, you will experience severe pain in the back of your leg, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty to stand on tiptoes or push the leg when walking. A popping or snapping sound is heard when the injury occurs. You may also feel a gap or depression in the Achilles tendon just above the heel bone.
Your doctor diagnoses the rupture based on symptoms, history of the injury, and physical examination. Your doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscle and, if the Achilles tendon is intact, there will be flexion movement of the foot; if the Achilles tendon is ruptured, there will be no movement observed.
Achilles tendon ruptures are treated using non-surgical or surgical methods. Non-surgical treatment involves wearing a cast or special brace which is changed after some period of time to bring the Achilles tendon back to its normal length. Along with the cast or brace, physical therapy may be recommended to improve the strength and flexibility of the lower leg muscles and Achilles tendon. Surgical treatment involves opening the skin and suturing the torn Achilles tendon back together. Surgery helps to decrease the recurrence of rupture of the Achilles tendon in comparison to non-surgical treatment.
To help prevent an Achilles tendon injury, it is a good practice to perform stretching and warm-up exercises before any participating in any exercise or sports-related activities. It is also a good practice to gradually increase the intensity and length of time of activity. Muscle conditioning also helps to strengthen the muscles in the lower leg.