Achilles tendon ruptures may be divided into full thickness ("total") and partial thickness ruptures. Total ruptures usually occur in formerly active athletes (average age 40) who resume sport activity after having been away from it for some time. In these cases, degenerative changes have weakened the tendon so much that sudden, forceful loading of the tendon causes it to tear. To some extent, these changes in the tendon could have been prevented by regular physical activity. In most cases, the injury mechanism is a strong activation of the posterior lower leg musculature, eccentrically overloading the tendon. A typical mechanism of injury involves pushing off hard with the weight-bearing foot while the knee is extended (e.g., running uphill) or sudden, unexpected dorsal extension of the ankle with reflex contraction of the calf musculature (e.g., falling down into a hole).
The cause of Achilles tendon ruptures besides obviously direct trauma, is multifactorial. In many instances the rupture occurs about 2-6 cm before its attachment to the calcaneous (heel bone). In this area there is a weaker blood supply making it more susceptible to injury and rupture. Rigid soled shoes can also be the causative factor in combination with the structure of your foot being susceptible to injury.
A classic sign of an Achilles tendon rupture is the feeling of being hit in the Achilles are. There is often a "pop" sound. There may be little pain, but the person can not lift up onto his toes while weight bearing.
It is usually possible to detect a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon on the history and examination. A gap may be felt in the tendon, usually 4-5cm above the heel bone. This is the normal site of injury and is called an intra-substance tear. The tear can occur higher up about 10cm above the insertion into the heel at the site where the muscles join the tendon, this is known as a musculo-tendinous tear. A special test will be performed which involves squeezing the calf. Normally if the Achilles tendon is intact this causes the foot to point downwards but if it is ruptured it causes no movement. To confirm the diagnosis and the exact site of the rupture it may be necessary to perform an Ultra-sound or MRI scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment of Achilles tendon rupture is usually reserved for patients who are relatively sedentary or may be at higher risk for complications with surgical intervention (due to other associated medical problems). This involves a period of immobilization, followed by range of motion and strengthening exercises; unfortunately, it is associated with a higher risk of re-rupture of the tendon, and possibly a less optimal functional outcome.
There are two types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. In open surgery, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the back of the leg. In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions rather than one large incision. In both types of surgery, the surgeon sews the tendon back together through the incision(s). Surgery may be delayed for about a week after the rupture, to let the swelling go down.
Good flexibility of the calf muscles plays an essential role in the prevention of Achilles tendon injuries. It is also important to include balance and stability work as part of the training programme. This should include work for the deep-seated abdominal muscles and for the muscles that control the hip. This might at first appear odd, given the fact that the Achilles are a good distance from these areas, but developing strength and control in this area (core stability) can boost control at the knee and ankle joints. Training errors should be avoided. The volume, intensity and frequency of training should be monitored carefully, and gradually progressed, particularly when introducing new modes of training to the programme. Abrupt changes in training load are the primary cause of Achilles tendinopathy.