Achilles Tendon Rupture

Achilles Tendon Rupture explained by Dr. Robert Anderson

An Achilles tendon tear can be a devastating orthopedic injury that has the ability to substantially limit your functional abilities; however, with the right course of care, and a specialized treatment plan, individuals can return back to their regular function.

Your Achilles tendon attaches the muscles of the calf in the back of your lower leg to your foot and ankle. Your calf muscles allow you to lift up onto your toes and point your foot downward. These muscles join to form the Achilles tendon, a tough band of tissue that attaches to the heel. The tendon is also known as the heel cord.

The Achilles is commonly torn during quick movement patterns during sporting activities such as running, basketball, soccer, and tennis. The tendon may also tear because of damage sustained over a long period of time. The risk for tearing the Achilles tendon also increases as we age.

If you've injured your Achilles tendon, you may have difficulty with walking due to pain and/or the inability to push off with your foot. When the tendon tears, it is often accompanied by a "pop" felt in the back of the lower leg. You may also experience swelling, bruising, and a "gap" in the tendon near the heel.

Oftentimes an Achilles tendon tear can be diagnosed by the symptoms mentioned earlier; however, to get a more detailed description of the tear, your physician may order an MRI.

Your health care provider may suggest surgery right away for a complete tear.  A partial tear of the tendon can be treated with physical therapy. Your tendon will be protected with a boot, and you may use a walker, crutches, or a cane for walking. Whether you have surgery or not, physical therapy will be a very important part of your recovery. Therapy will help with swelling and pain control initially, as well as, recovering the strength, motion, and use of your leg and foot as the tendon heals. Your therapist will work with you in the later stages of recovery to get back to all the activities that you enjoy.

Surgery, if warranted, consists of a highly trained orthopedic surgeon repairing the Achilles tendon at the location of the injury. Initially there is a period of non-weight bearing and immobilization with the use of a boot for approximately 4-6 weeks.  Progression is dependent upon the patient and relies on many factors, but usually individuals can return to regular activities in 6-12 months.