Achilles Tendon Rupture

What is an Achilles Tendon?

The Achilles tendon is the large cord-like structure that you can feel at the back of your ankle. This tendon is the thickest and strongest in the body, and is essential to walking and running.

It connects the powerful calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to your heel bone (the calcaneum). When you tense your calf muscles, your Achilles tendon tightens, pulling your heel up towards your body, and causing your foot to point down, like a ballerina. This movement is called plantarflexion, and is the movement that pushes your leg away from the ground in walking and running ('toe-off' phase).

Diagram of the Foot and Ankle looking from the side. It shows a rupture of the Achilles Tendon
Diagram of the Foot and Ankle. It shows a rupture of the Achilles Tendon

When you walk, run, jump and do most other movements involving your ankle your Achilles takes on significant stress to support your weight. In addition, the Achilles tendon does not have an entirely straight course, but instead spirals slightly, producing an area vulnerable to fraying and strain. This area – approximately 3-4cm above your heel – is often the site of tears.

Overstretching and repetitive strain can result in the Achilles tendon tearing (rupture). This can be a partial or full thickness rupture, where ends of the tendon are separated completely from each other. Ruptures of the Achilles tend to occur most commonly in people playing recreational sports in their 40s and 50s, however, it can occur at any age. Often, before the tendon tears completely, people report pain and trouble with the tendon as fibres in the 'cord' fray one by one.

If you have an Achilles tendon rupture, you might feel a pop or snap, followed by an immediate sharp pain in the back of your ankle and calf. People often describe this as similar to 'being kicked'.

Ruptures can be treated without an operation in a plaster cast or special brace, or with surgery (see Repair of a Ruptured Achilles Tendon).

As the tendon takes a long time to heal, you may notice significant weakness & stiffness in your leg after weeks of keeping it still. As a result, many people require physiotherapy to rebuild the muscle and regain movement in the joints, and even to relearn how to walk correctly (gait retraining). Symptoms

22 September, 2012