Overview The Achilles tendon is the soft tissue located in the heel which connects calf muscle to the heel bone allowing the body to perform certain activities such as rising on the tip toes and pushing off when running or walking. Achilles tendon tears occur when the tendon becomes torn through excessive pressure put on the area which the tendon is unable to withstand. Tears are most commonly found when suddenly accelerating from a standing position and therefore is often seen in runners and athletes involved in racquet sports. A tear can also occur when a continuous force is being put on the heel through prolonged levels of activity and overuse however this can also occur as a result of sudden impact or force to the area common in contact sports such as rugby and hockey. Although Achilles tendon tears can range in their severity, a rupture is the most serious form of tear and involves a completely torn tendon. This injury is more common in patients in their 30?s and 40?s. Causes The tendon is susceptible to injury and can rupture during vigorous activities such as running and jumping. Rupture can also occur as a result of gradual wear. After becoming chronically weakened, it can rupture during non-stress activities like walking. Symptoms The pain from an Achilles tendon rupture is usually felt in the back of the lower leg, in the area 2 to 6 cm. above the Achilles tendon's attachment to the calcaneus. Individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture often describe a "pop" or similar feeling at the time of the injury. A "hole" or defect in the Achilles tendon can usually be felt under the skin in this area. A limp and inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot are usually present. If the affected foot does not plantar flex when the calf muscles are squeezed an Achilles tendon rupture is very likely. Diagnosis Diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture is not difficult. Usually, the diagnosis is obvious after examination of the ankle and performing some easy foot maneuvers (such as attempting to stand on the toes). When an Achilles tendon rupture occurs, there is often clinical confirmation of tenderness and bruising around the heel. A gap is felt when the finger is passed over the heel area, where the rupture has developed. All individuals with a full-blown rupture of the tendon are unable to stand on their toes. There is no blood work required in making a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture. The following are three common radiological tests to make a diagnosis of Achilles tendon rupture. Plain X-rays of the foot may reveal swelling of the soft tissues around the ankle, other bone injury, or tendon calcification. Ultrasound is the next most commonly ordered test to document the injury and size of the tear. For a partial tear of the Achilles tendon, the diagnosis is not always obvious on a physical exam and hence an ultrasound is ordered. This painless procedure can make a diagnosis of partial/full Achilles tendon rupture rapidly. Ultrasound is a relatively inexpensive, fast, and reliable test. MRI is often ordered when diagnosis of tendon rupture is not obvious on ultrasound or a complex injury is suspected. MRI is an excellent imaging test to assess for presence of any soft-tissue trauma or fluid collection. More importantly, MRI can help detect presence of tendon thickening, bursitis, and partial tendon rupture. However, MRI is expensive and is not useful if there is any bone damage. Non Surgical Treatment Non-surgical treatment of Achilles tendon rupture is usually reserved for patients who are relatively sedentary or may be at higher risk for complications with surgical intervention (due to other associated medical problems). This involves a period of immobilization, followed by range of motion and strengthening exercises; unfortunately, it is associated with a higher risk of re-rupture of the tendon, and possibly a less optimal functional outcome. Surgical Treatment While it is possible to treat an Achilles tendon rupture without surgery, this is not ideal since the maximum strength of the muscle and tendon rarely returns. The reason is the ends of the tendon are ruptured in a very irregular manner, almost like the ends of a paint brush. As soon as the tendon ruptures, the calf muscle (gastrocnemius muscle) continues to pull on the tendon and the end of the ruptured tendon pulls back into the leg, which is called retraction. Once the tendon retracts, it is never possible to get sufficient strength back without surgery, because the muscle no longer functions at the correct biomechanical length and is now stretched out. There are patients for whom surgery cannot be performed, in particular, due to existing medical conditions that may add to potential for complications following surgery. For these patients, a specially designed boot that positions the foot correctly and takes the pressure and tension off the muscle and tendon is used. Most importantly, a cast is never used because it causes permanent shrinkage (atrophy) of the calf muscle. The special boot permits pressure on the foot with walking. The boot also has a hinge to permit movement of the ankle. Many studies of Achilles tendon ruptures have shown that this movement of the foot in the boot while walking is ideal for tendon healing. If surgery is not recommended, it is essential to obtain special tests to check that the ends of the tendon are lying next to each other so that healing can occur. The best test to do this is an ultrasound and not an MRI. Prevention Prevention centers on appropriate daily Achilles stretching and pre-activity warm-up. Maintain a continuous level of activity in your sport or work up gradually to full participation if you have been out of the sport for a period of time. Good overall muscle conditioning helps maintain a healthy tendon.