The largest tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon is a cord connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. Also called the ?cord of Achilles,? the tendon gets its name from the hero of Greek myth. According to legend, Achilles was invulnerable everywhere but his heel, where a poisoned arrow eventually felled him. Because the blood supply to the Achilles tendon lessens with age, the tendon becomes vulnerable to inflammation and rupture, a fact which makes it a true ?Achilles heel? for many older patients. Achilles tendon injuries are also common among athletes and those who engage in more physically demanding activity.
Causes of and contributors to Achilles tendon rupture include trauma (caused by injury, usually an acceleration injury such as pushing off or jumping up). Preceding tendon problems. Chronic Achilles tendonitis (can lead to small tears within the tendon, increasingly weakening it). Certain drug therapies/treatments. Drugs that have been linked to Achilles tendon rupture include. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics – after nearly 900 reports of tendon ruptures, tendonitis and other tendon disorders (most associated with the Achilles tendon) linked to Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) alone were collected in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?s database, at least one public-interest group petitioned the FDA to recommend that a “Black Box Warning” be added to Cipro’s packaging. Some researchers speculate this class of antibiotics is toxic to tendon fibers, and that in some cases may reduce their blood supply. Patients should at least be more aware of the potential for ruptures so that they can be switched to other antibiotics at the onset of early warning signals such as tendon pain.
Patients with an Achilles tendon rupture frequently present with complaints of a sudden snap in the lower calf associated with acute, severe pain. The patient reports feeling like he or she has been shot, kicked, or cut in the back of the leg, which may result in an inability to ambulate further. A patient with Achilles tendon rupture will be unable to stand on his or her toes on the affected side.
The diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is made entirely on physical examination. Often, there is a substantial defect in the Achilles from 2-5 cm before it inserts into the heel bone. However, the main test is to determine whether the Achilles has been ruptured is the Thompson test. This essentially involves placing the patient on their stomach and squeezing the calf muscle. If the Achilles is intact, the foot will rise [plantar flex]. If it is ruptured, the foot will not move and will tend to be in a lower lying position.
Non Surgical Treatment
Nonsurgical method is generally undertaken in individuals who are old, inactive, and at high-risk for surgery. Other individuals who should not undergo surgery are those who have a wound infection/ulcer around the heel area. A large group of patients who may not be candidates for surgery include those with diabetes, those with poor blood supply to the foot, patients with nerve problems in the foot, and those who may not comply with rehabilitation. Nonsurgical management involves application of a short leg cast to the affected leg, with the ankle in a slightly flexed position. Maintaining the ankle in this position helps appose the tendons and improves healing. The leg is placed in a cast for six to 10 weeks and no movement of the ankle is allowed. Walking is allowed on the cast after a period of four to six weeks. When the cast is removed, a small heel lift is inserted in the shoe to permit better support for the ankle for an additional two to four weeks. Following this, physical therapy is recommended. The advantages of a nonsurgical approach are no risk of a wound infection or breakdown of skin and no risk of nerve injury. The disadvantages of the nonsurgical approach includes a slightly higher risk of Achilles tendon rupture and the surgery is much more complex if indeed a repair is necessary in future. In addition, the recuperative period after the nonsurgical approach is more prolonged.
A completely ruptured Achilles tendon requires surgery and up to 12 weeks in a cast. Partial tears are sometimes are treated with surgery following by a cast. Because the tendon shortens as it heals, a heel lift is used for 6 months or more after the cast comes off. Physical therapy to regain flexibility and then strength are begun as soon as the cast is off.