Overview The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body. It plays a very important role in most sport activities and is particularly vulnerable to overloading from repetitive running and jumping. The Achilles tendon forms a joint distal tendon for the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles. These muscles combine to form the triceps surae muscle. Athletes who sustain Achilles tendon ruptures most frequently are those who participate in ball sports that demand rapid changes of direction and quick, reactive jumps (e.g., tennis, squash, badminton, and soccer), in addition to runners and jumpers in track and field. Sometimes a patient with a ruptured tendon has a history of long-term pain localized to the tendon, but more often the rupture occurs without warning. Such ruptures are often caused by degenerative changes in the tendon (tendinosis), usually in the segment of the tendon that has the worst blood supply. This segment extends from 2 to 6 cm proximal to the insertion of the tendon onto the calcaneus. Causes Often an Achilles rupture can occur spontaneously without any prodromal symptoms. Unfortunately the first "pop" or "snap" that you experience is your Achilles tendon rupture. Achilles tendon rupture most commonly occurs in the middle-aged male athlete (the weekend warrior who is engaging in a pickup game of basketball, for example). Injury often occurs during recreational sports that require bursts of jumping, pivoting, and running. Most often these are tennis, racquetball, squash, basketball, soccer, softball and badminton. Achilles rupture can happen in the following situations. You make a forceful push-off with your foot while your knee is straightened by the powerful thigh muscles. One example might be starting a foot race or jumping. You suddenly trip or stumble, and your foot is thrust in front to break a fall, forcefully over stretching the tendon. You fall from a significant height. It does appear that previous history of Achilles tendonitis results in a degenerative tendon, which can grow weak and thin with age and lack of use. Then it becomes prone to injury or rupture. Certain illnesses (such as arthritis and diabetes) and medications (such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics) can also increase the risk of rupture. Symptoms Symptoms of an Achilles tendon rupture usually directly follow a traumatic event where the foot is forced in an upward position at the ankle, causing a sudden tight stretch of the Achilles tendon. There can also be a direct blow to the tendon causing a rupture. There is typically a popping feeling or even a popping sound described during the occurance of the rupture. Typically there is pain with swelling in the region. Often the patient is unable to put weight on this foot as there is too much pain. Diagnosis If an Achilles tendon rupture is suspected, it is important to consult a doctor straight away so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment recommended. Until a doctor can be consulted it is important to let the foot hang down with the toes pointed to the ground. This prevents the ends of the ruptured tendon pulling any farther apart. The doctor will take a full medical history, including any previous Achilles tendon injuries and what activity was being undertaken at the time the present injury occurred. The doctor will also conduct a physical examination and will check for swelling, tenderness and range of movement in the lower leg and foot. A noticeable gap may be able to be felt in the tendon at the site of the rupture. This is most obvious just after the rupture has occurred and swelling will eventually make this gap difficult to feel. One test commonly used to confirm an Achilles tendon rupture is the Thomson test. For this test the patient lies face down on an examination table. The doctor then squeezes the calf muscles; an action that would normally cause the foot to point like a ballerina (plantar flexion). When a partial rupture has occurred the foot's ability to point may be decreased. When a complete rupture has occurred, the foot may not point at all. Ultrasound scanning of the Achilles tendon may also be recommended in order to assist with the diagnosis. Non Surgical Treatment Once the Achilles tendon is partially damaged, one should exercise great care. The risk of rupture is high and if pain is associated with walking, one should consult with an orthopedic surgeon or a sports physician. A complete rupture of the Achilles tendon is never treated at home. It is important to understand that there are no minerals, nutrients, or herbs to treat Achilles tendon injury and any delay just worsens the recovery. Surgical Treatment Surgery may be indicated directly following injury rather than conservative care. Repair of an achilles tendon rupture is greatly varied for each clinical situation. There may be a direct repair of the ends of the tendon with suture, or possibly a tendon graft used to augment the tendon. Post-operatively, the period of immobilization will depend on the size of the defect that was repaired and how it was completed. Usually the immobilization is between 6-10 weeks. This repair may allow for a complete return to normal function, but in many instances the healing is complicated with adhesions and a partial loss of range of motion. There may be a continued soft tissue defect noted and a permanent or prolonged swelling.