Your Achilles may be the longest, strongest, and thickest tendon in your body, but it’s not invincible. In fact, it can even rupture (partially or entirely). Achilles tendon ruptures most frequently affect recreational athletes, particularly middle-aged adults who play a lot of sports in their free time. Basketball, tennis, soccer, and other sports that may include lots of starts and stops, jumping, pivoting, or twisting are the usual culprits, although ruptures can also be caused by a non-sports-related incident like a fall or awkward step, such as into a hole or off a curb.
Signs, Symptoms, and What to Do
Sharp pain and a sensation (or even sound) of popping or snapping is common when the rupture first occurs. Many patients describe the feeling as a kick or a stab in the ankle or calf. After the initial injury, pain may continue, along with swelling. Walking normally may become difficult, since damage to the tendon can prevent you from generating the necessary force to push off the injured leg.
If you suspect a rupture, as with any other closed foot or ankle injury, stop bearing weight on the injured leg and perform RICE therapy practices—that means rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This will help you deal with the pain and minimize swelling. As soon as you can, visit us for more extensive treatment.
Surgery or Not?
When it comes to treating an Achilles tendon rupture, there’s a fork in the road—one path leads to surgery, the other to nonsurgical (conservative) treatment. There are strengths and weaknesses to each option, though in most cases both will be about equally effective in the long run. The decision of which route to take will be made by you and your doctor and depend on your age, lifestyle, the severity of the injury, and personal preference.
This procedure typically involves making an incision, stitching your ruptured tendon back together, and reinforcing with other tendons if necessary. Recovery time is usually faster with this method, and the risk of re-injury is lower. That said, it also comes with the usual risks of any surgery—infection, nerve damage, and other complications. The greater the size of the incision, the more likely complications will occur. Younger and more active patients typically prefer this option.
Conservative treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture involves placing the foot and ankle in a cast or walking boot with an elevated heel, and letting the tendon heal itself naturally. Although this process generally takes longer than surgery, and the repaired tendon may be somewhat more susceptible to future re-injury, it bypasses potential surgery-related complications. Older, less active patients often choose this route.
Rehabbing Your Tendon
Whether you choose surgery or not, rehab is essentially the same. As soon as your doctor has approved it, you can begin incorporating a regime of physical therapy into your daily activities to strengthen affected leg muscles and tendons, and slowly increase your activities. For most individuals, four months up to half a year of rehab is typical before returning to previous activity levels.
To prevent future injuries, be smart. Remember to always stretch and warm up before exercise. Vary your activities, mixing in low-impact cardio or other sports, to avoid putting repeated stress on one body part all the time. If you’re trying a new activity or getting back into sports or exercise after a long period of inactivity, don’t overexert yourself—build your conditioning gradually and let your body get used to new motions.
Choosing Expert Care
Achilles tendon ruptures can be quite painful and can severely limit your ability to stay active, play the sports you love, or even stand or walk normally. That’s why you need expert care. Family Foot and Ankle Center is Greater Cincinnati’s leader in foot and ankle sports injury care. Using the most up-to-date tools and techniques, our experienced doctors will have you back on your feet as soon as possible. Contact us through this website to set up an appointment at one of our six offices today, or call (513) 728-4800 in Ohio or (859) 282-1572 in Kentucky.