Torn Achilles Tendon: Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

While on a run or playing a sport, did you hear a loud pop followed by severe pain in your ankle? If so, you may have ruptured your Achilles tendon.

What is the Achilles tendon?

You may have heard the phrase Achilles' heel before. In Greek and Roman mythology, Achilles was a nearly invincible man, with the exception of his one weak spot-- his heel. In modern times, the tendon located in that same place is known as the Achilles tendon.

The Achilles tendon allows you to point your foot down. That may not sound like much, but without it, you can't walk, run, jump, or stand on your tiptoes. The Achilles is attached to the calf at the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. It extends downwards, going all the way to the heel.

What are the symptoms of a rupture?

Most of the time, pain in the area of the Achilles tendon is due to tendonitis, where the tendon becomes inflamed. Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include pain that progresses slowly, pain that is made worse by activity and better by rest, and swelling. You may also be able to feel a lump when pressing along the tendon-- this is due to a buildup of scar tissue.

If Achilles tendonitis goes untreated, or if the tendon suffers sudden, severe trauma, a rupture may occur. This happens when the tendon physically tears, either partially or completely. The pain experienced from this kind of injury is sudden and severe, followed by swelling. If you're suffering from a rupture, you likely can't walk well, or stand on your tiptoes.

How is an Achilles tendon rupture diagnosed?

An Achilles tendon rupture is diagnosed through a physical examination. Something called the Thompson test may also be performed. During the Thompson test, your doctor will squeeze the calf muscle. In a leg with a healthy Achilles tendon, this causes the foot to flex. Alternatively, if the foot doesn't flex, it's indicative of a partial or complete tear.

How is it treated?

For those who are elderly or living a more sedentary lifestyle, treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture usually involves wearing a boot. The boot stabilizes the foot and ankle, allowing the Achilles to heal. For some, avoiding surgery is worth the increased recovery time and likelihood of re-injuring the tendon. In athletes and those living a more active lifestyle, surgery is often necessary to repair a rupture. The tendon may be stitched together, or a graft may be used to provide extra strength to the tendon. Full recovery can take anywhere from four to six months.

If you think you may have injured or ruptured your Achilles tendon, see an orthopedic doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you receive treatment, the shorter your recovery time will be.

For more information, contact Town Center Orthopaedic Associates or a similar organization.