A torn or ruptured Achilles tendon is simply no fun at all. This essential cord of strong, fibrous material attaches the heel bone to the calf muscles and is used in just about every movement, from walking and running to jumping and standing on your tip-toes. It also helps bend the foot downwards at the ankle. As the strongest tendon in the body, the Achilles can withstand a force of about 1,000 pounds. About 7 out of every 100,000 people will suffer from a ruptured Achilles at some point in time, with over 80% of these injuries occurring during a recreational sports activity. Athletes have a 24% chance of tearing their Achilles, but competitive runners have a 40 to 50% chance of Achilles tendon rupture during their lifetime.
People who commonly fall victim to Achilles rupture or tear include recreational athletes, people of old age, individuals with previous Achilles tendon tears or ruptures, previous tendon injections or quinolone use, extreme changes in training intensity or activity level, and participation in a new activity. Most cases of Achilles tendon rupture are traumatic sports injuries. The average age of patients is 29-40 years with a male-to-female ratio of nearly 20:1. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin, and glucocorticoids have been linked with an increased risk of Achilles tendon rupture. Direct steroid injections into the tendon have also been linked to rupture. Quinolone has been associated with Achilles tendinitis and Achilles tendon ruptures for some time. Quinolones are antibacterial agents that act at the level of DNA by inhibiting DNA Gyrase. DNA Gyrase is an enzyme used to unwind double stranded DNA which is essential to DNA Replication. Quinolone is specialized in the fact that it can attack bacterial DNA and prevent them from replicating by this process, and are frequently prescribed to the elderly. Approximately 2% to 6% of all elderly people over the age of 60 who have had Achilles ruptures can be attributed to the use of quinolones.
A sudden and severe pain may be felt at the back of the ankle or calf, often described as "being hit by a rock or shot" or "like someone stepped onto the back of my ankle." The sound of a loud pop or snap may be reported. A gap or depression may be felt and seen in the tendon about 2 inches above the heel bone. Initial pain, swelling, and stiffness may be followed by bruising and weakness. The pain may decrease quickly, and smaller tendons may retain the ability to point the toes. Without the Achilles tendon, though, this would be very difficult. Standing on tiptoe and pushing off when walking will be impossible. A complete tear is more common than a partial tear.
A typical history as detailed above together with positive clinical examination usually will clinch the diagnosis. In an acute rupture, one can usually feel the gap in the tendon from the rupture. There may be swelling or bruising around the ankle and foot of the injured leg. With the patient lying on the tummy (prone position) with the knee flexed, the examiner should see the ankle and foot flex downwards (plantarward) when squeezing the calf muscles. If there is no movement in the ankle and foot on squeezing the calf muscle, this implies that the calf muscle is no longer attached to the heel bone due to a complete Achilles tendon rupture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Two treatment options are casting or surgery. If an Achilles tendon rupture is untreated then it may not heal properly and could lead to loss of strength. Decisions about treatment options should be made on an individual basis. Non-surgical management traditionally is selected for minor ruptures, less active patients, and those with medical conditions that prevent them from undergoing surgery. The goal of casting is to allow the tendon to slowly heal over time. The foot and ankle are positioned to bring the torn ends of the tendon close together. Casting or bracing for up to 12 weeks or more may be necessary. This method can be effective and avoids some risks, such as infection, associated with surgery. However, the likelihood of re-rupture may be higher with a non-surgical approach and recovery can take longer.
Surgery for Achilles tendon rupture requires an operation to open the skin and physically suture (sew) the ends of the tendon back together, has a lower incidence of re-rupture than nonsurgical treatment. Allows return to pre-injury activities sooner and at a higher level of functioning with less shrinkage of muscle. Risks are associated with surgery, anesthesia, infection, skin breakdown, scarring, bleeding, accidental nerve injury, higher cost, and blood clots in the leg are possible after surgery. Surgery has been the treatment of choice for the competitive athlete or those with a high level of physical activity, for those with a delay in treatment or diagnosis, and for those whose tendons have ruptured again.