The Achilles tendon, or calcaneal tendon, is a large ropelike band of fibrous tissue in the back of the ankle that connects the powerful calf muscles to the heel bone (calcaneus). Sometimes called the heel cord, it is the largest tendon in the human body. When the calf muscles contract, the Achilles tendon is tightened, pulling the heel. This allows you to point your foot and stand on tiptoe. It is vital to such activities as walking, running, and jumping. A complete tear through the tendon, which usually occurs about 2 inches above the heel bone, is called an Achilles tendon rupture.
Often the individual will feel or hear a pop or a snap when the injury occurs. There is immediate swelling and severe pain in the back of the heel, below the calf where it ruptures. Pain is usually severe enough that it is difficult or impossible to walk or take a step. The individual will not be able to push off or go on their toes.
Typically patients present with sudden onset of pain and swelling in the achilles region, often accompanied by a audible snap during forceful dorsiflexion of the foot. A classic example is that of an unfit ‘weekend warrior’ playing squash. If complete a defect may be felt and the patient will have only minimal plantar flexion against resistance.
On physical examination the area will appear swollen and ecchymotic, which may inhibit the examiners ability to detect a palpable defect. The patient will be unable to perform a single heel raise. To detect the presence of a complete rupture the Thompson test can be performed. The test is done by placing the patient prone on the examination table with the knee flexed to 90?, which allows gravity and the resting tension of the triceps surae to increase the dorsiflexion at the ankle. The calf muscle is squeezed by the examiner and a lack of planar flexion is noted in positive cases. It is important to note that active plantar flexion may still be present in the face of a complete rupture due to the secondary flexor muscles of the foot. It has been reported that up to 25% of patients may initially be missed in the emergency department due to presence of active plantar flexion and swelling over the Achilles tendon, which makes palpation of a defect difficult.
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.
Some surgeons feel an early surgical repair of the tendon is beneficial. The surgical option was long thought to offer a significantly smaller risk of re-rupture compared to traditional non-operative management (5% vs 15%). Of course, surgery imposes higher relative risks of perioperative mortality and morbidity e.g. infection including MRSA, bleeding, deep vein thrombosis, lingering anesthesia effects, etc.