Are you suffering from pain in the back of your lower leg and foot? It could be an Achilles tendon rupture. In most cases, this injury requires a doctor’s attention. So what is the Achilles tendon and how does it get injured? What treatment options are available? Use this guide to find out.
Your skeletal muscles allow for movement in your joints. When a muscle contracts, it needs something to help move the bones. This is where tendons come into play. Without tendons, these movements would not be possible.
Tendons are soft tissues that connect muscles to bones. These fibrous tissues, made up of collagen, are very strong and flexible. The Achilles tendon, sometimes known as the calcaneal tendon, connects your calf muscles to the heel bone. It is the largest tendon in your body. It starts near the middle calf and extends all the way to the heel bone.
The Achilles tendon facilitates movements like walking, running, jumping, and raising your heel off the ground. As one of the strongest tendons in the body, it has the ability to withstand the stress of up to four times the body’s weight.
Like most soft tissues in the body, despite its strength, the Achilles tendon is prone to injuries.
Forceful lower body movements, often during strenuous activities, can cause an Achilles tendon rupture. This occurs when either part or all of the tendon is torn.
Achilles tendon tears are a common sports injury that tends to befall “weekend warriors”—those who participate in sports or other activities in their spare time without much training and strengthening in between. In fact, besides athletes, middle-aged men commonly suffer from these types of injuries.
Jumping, fast-pivoting, or periods of sprinting and quick stops can overstretch the tendon. Athletes who participate in football, soccer, tennis, and basketball have a high risk of Achilles tendon tears. In addition, falling or accidentally stepping in a hole can injure the tendon.
The Achilles tendon may also degenerate. Sometimes known as Achilles tendinitis, this occurs because of repeated stress or overuse of the tendon. Tendinitis can also weaken the area eventually causing a rupture.
Likewise, other factors may contribute to Achilles tendon injuries. Carrying excess weight and a relatively inactive lifestyle followed by brief periods of strenuous activity put the tendon at greater risk for injury. In addition, certain medications may also weaken the Achilles tendon. These include antibiotics, namely fluoroquinolone, as well as corticosteroid injections.
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An acute rupture of the Achilles tendon may be misdiagnosed as an ankle sprain. In fact, a wrong diagnosis may occur in up to 25% of patients. By understanding the symptoms of this condition and receiving a proper diagnosis, you are much less likely to suffer further injury.
Are you suffering from ankle or calf pain? Here are some signs that it may be more than a simple sprain:
Your doctor or a foot and ankle surgeon can accurately diagnose an Achilles Tendon Rupture. During a physical exam, your doctor will start by asking you how the injury occurred as well as your symptoms. After that, an inspection of your foot and ankle alerts the doctor to any swelling, tenderness, or defects in the area. In addition, physical tests detect a reduced range of motion or weakness during plantar flexion—when the foot or toes stretch downward.
In some cases, your doctor may want to take an even better look at the area. This will help determine if the tear is complete or partial. Diagnostic imaging like an MRI or ultrasound gives the doctor an opportunity to see the extent of your Achilles tendon injury.
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There are both surgical and nonsurgical options for treating an Achilles tendon injury. This often depends on the severity of the rupture and your overall health status. Those who are younger and more active generally choose to repair the injury using surgery. Older people who aren’t as active may opt for more conservative treatments. It’s always best to talk with your doctor or ankle and foot surgeon to determine what treatment is right for you.
While nonsurgical treatments may be effective in some cases, there is a higher risk of reinjuring the area if returning to activities too soon.
Those choosing more conservative treatments usually have to rest the area for a period of time. During this recovery phase, icing the area can help to reduce pain and swelling. In addition, elevating the leg and wrapping it in an elastic bandage also can manage swelling.
Over-the-counter medications can aid immensely with pain relief. You can also use a special cast or boot to immobilize the area, encouraging a speedy recovery.
Physical therapy exercises can strengthen the Achilles tendon as well as the affected leg muscles. In addition, functional rehabilitation helps you gain a better understanding on how your movements affect the body. This is especially helpful for athletes or “weekend warriors.”
In some cases, surgery can allow those who haven’t responded to nonsurgical treatments to find more lasting relief. In addition, those who wish to get back to doing what they love quicker with less chance of re-injuring the area may choose surgery.
During surgery, you will likely receive anesthesia as well as sedation to numb the area and help you sleep through the procedure. For a minimally invasive procedure, a small incision is made so that the surgeon can gain access to the area. Using a tiny camera, the surgeon investigates the area and performs an Achilles tendon repair. This usually includes suturing the ripped tendon.
In cases of degeneration, the surgeon may remove another tendon from your foot. This tendon will replace all or part of the injured Achilles tendon. This is known as a tendon transfer.
Once the damage is repaired, the incision and any affected muscles are sutured. Dressing is applied to the wound. In many cases, these surgeries are outpatient procedures. This means you can go home the same day.
After waking up from surgery, you will likely have your ankle in a splint or boot. This prevents movement so the area can heal. In addition, using crutches will help you keep weight off your leg.
In the days following the surgery, you can take medications to relieve the pain. Your doctor will monitor the area to see how it is healing and make sure there is no nerve damage or infection. As you continue to heal, physical therapy is also recommended to restore function to your injured foot.
With the appropriate aftercare, most people can return to normal activities within four to six months.
An Achilles tendon injury can keep you from doing the things you love. If you’re an athlete, the quicker you get the tendon repaired, the quicker you can get back on the field. So who can you turn to for trusted results?
The doctors at NJ Spine and Orthopedic have decades of experience treating a variety orthopedic conditions. They specialize in minimally invasive procedures using the latest technology. What does this mean for you? Minimal scarring, less damage to the area, and—and likely most important of all—faster recovery times.
You felt that “pop” and resulting pain in your Achilles tendon. Why not trust your gut and go with a team of doctors who specialize in helping people getting their life back? Call 855-586-2615 for a free MRI consultation today.
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