How To Recognize And Treat Achilles Tendon Ruptures

Achilles Rupture

Your Achilles tendon is a strong tendon in your body.  It connects the calf muscles (made up of the gastrocnemius and soleus) located in the back of the lower leg to the back of the heel. The Achilles tendon can partially tear or completely rupture. It is more common for individuals over the age of 35 to suffer a complete rupture of their Achilles tendon than a younger athlete.

Achilles tendon ruptures are frequently associated with a previous history of a prolonged inflammatory condition.  Significant Achilles tendon injuries are commonly the result of an aggressive acceleration movement using the lower leg and/or rapid change of direction activities.

Signs & Symptoms of an Achilles Tendon Rupture

  • A sudden sharp pain as if something hit you in the back of the leg.
  • A sudden snapping sound accompanied by an intense but short-lived pain.
  • The inability to push your foot downward or raise yourself up on your toes while walking.
  • The presence of a divot or gap felt along the usual location of the tendon.
  • A significant amount of swelling and surprisingly, minimal pain, in the back of the lower leg.
  • A positive result for Thompson’s test.

How to Treat a Torn Achilles Tendon

  • Apply ice to the area with an ice bag, ice massage or, ideally, an ice bucket.
  • Avoid walking on the ankle.  Until the severity of the injury is determined, walking on this injury may result in additional damage which can significantly prolong the recovery time.
  • Elevation of the ankle and lower leg will limit the swelling and decrease the pain.
  • Seek sports medicine consultation immediately. Confirming the diagnosis early is very important.

Questions to Ask About Your Torn Achilles Tendon

Even if you’re not a professional athlete, your goal should be to treat your torn Achilles tendon both safely and efficiently. To emulate the smart professional athlete with an Achilles tendon injury who wants to safely return to his/her sport, ask your sports medicine specialist the following questions:

  1. Are you certain of the diagnosis and do we need to do an MRI to determine the extent of the injury?
  2. What are my options with a conservative (without surgery) rehab plan and with a surgical approach?
  3. With both options, what can I expect for the next 3, 6 and 9 months?
  4. If your son or daughter where in my situation and had the exact same injury as I do, what would you recommend them to do?
  5. If surgery is my best option, how many of these types of surgeries do you do per year?  Who do you consider to be the expert Achilles surgeon in this area?
  6. Who do you consider to be the expert Achilles rehab specialist in this area?
  7. Will I be given a detailed rehabilitation protocol to direct my rehab for both my therapist and me?

Elite Sports Medicine Tips You Can Apply to Recover More Quickly

  • Know what you’re dealing with – To quickly get a clear diagnosis and plan, it’s better to have this type of an injury evaluated by an orthopedically-oriented medical specialist compared to a general medical professional.
  • Start treating it early – There are many factors such as walking boots, surgery and early weight bearing plans that must be addressed within the first couple of days after an injury if a full recovery is expected.
  • Know Your Plan for Today & Tomorrow – Be realistic about your activity plans for both your short term and the long term.  Being on crutches for a month or two is never ideal for anyone but if in doing so it considerably improves the likelihood that you will be a happy and active athlete for the rest of your life, DO IT!
  • Think like a Pro – Most high-level athletes with a complete Achilles tendon rupture decide to have their tendon surgically repaired.  The outcome is usually better than the conservative approach, which usually takes longer to heal along with a slower rehabilitation schedule.
  • Expect a Marathon Recuperation Period– The recovery time is considerable for this type of an injury.  Generally speaking, with a surgical repair the recovery time is approximately 6 months.  With the conservative or non-surgical approach, the recovery time is usually closer to 9 months.
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