The Achilles tendon is an important part of the leg. It is located just behind and above the heel. It joins the heel bone to the calf muscles. Its function is to help in bending the foot downwards at the ankle (this movement is called plantar flexion by doctors). If the Achilles tendon is torn, this is called an Achilles tendon rupture. The tear may be either partial or complete. In a partial tear, the tendon is partly torn but still joined to the calf muscle. With complete tears, the tendon is completely torn so that the connection between the calf muscles and the ankle bone is lost.
Inflammation/strain of the tendon is usually caused by overuse, for example, frequent jumping in volleyball, netball or basketball. It is often also caused by a sudden increase in certain types of training, such as hill sprinting or track running, particularly when running in spikes. Tendinopathy can also be associated with ageing. Our ability to regenerate damaged tissue decreases as we age and the quality of the tendon deteriorates. However, the better news is that sensible training can actually strengthen all our soft tissue (tendons, ligaments and muscle). Tightness in the calf muscles will demand greater flexibility of the tendon, which inevitably results in overuse and injury. Biomechanically, the tightness can reduce the range of dorsiflexion (toe up position) in the ankle, which increases the amount and duration of pronation. This problem is known as overpronation.* This reduces the ability of the foot to become a rigid lever at push off and places more lateral and linear forces through the tendon. This imbalance can translate into altered rotation of the tibia (shin bone) at the knee joint and, in turn, produce compensatory rotation at the hip joint with subsequent injuries to the shin, knee and hip. Pronation is part of the natural movement of the subtalar joint in the foot. It allows ?eversion? (turning the sole outwards), dorsiflexion and abduction (pointing the toes out to the side). Pronation is a normal part of the gait cycle, when walking and running, and it helps to provide shock absorption in the foot. When pronation is excessive, the foot has a tendency to roll inward more than normally acceptable. One sign of overpronation is greater wear on the inside of your running shoes than on the midsole. Lack of stability around the ankle joint can also be a contributory factor, as recurrent ankle sprains appear to be associated with a high incidence of Achilles tendonopathy. Wearing shoes that don?t fit or support the foot properly can be a major contributing cause of Achilles tendon injury.
It is important to know that pain at the back of the heel is not always due to Achilles tendon rupture. It may be due to bursitis (fluid accumulation in the heel due to repeated irritation) and tendonitis (pain along the Achilles tendon due to constant friction and irritation). The above disorders tend to improve with use of pain medications and rest, whereas Achilles tendon rupture requires surgery and/or a cast.
The actual area of an Achilles tendon rupture cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture these x-rays are usually normal. Diagnostic ultrasound of the tendon can be performed to assess the integrity of the tendon. Other diagnostic tests, such as MRI's, may also be required in difficult cases.
Non Surgical Treatment
If you suspect a total rupture of the achilles tendon then apply cold therapy and compression and seek medical attention as soon as possible. In most cases surgery is required and the sooner this takes place the higher the chances of success. If the injury is left longer than two days then the chances of a successful outcome decrease. Cold and compression can also be applied throughout the rehabilitation phase as swelling is likely to be an issue with such a serious injury.
Surgery could allow for a quicker healing time. The procedure generally involves making an incision in the back of your lower leg and stitching the torn tendon together. Depending on the condition of the tissue, the repair may be reinforced with other tendons. As with any surgery, the main complication is the risk for infection, however, this risk is reduced by using smaller incisions.