Having an Achilles Tendon Rupture is no joke. It's not like spraining an ankle or tweaking your back. Rupturing the Achilles Tendon means that a person has significant damage to a huge tendon in their leg. You (generally) can't stand on it if you have a complete rupture (because the tendon totally separates so provides no support) and your calf muscles can roll up into a ball towards the top of your lower leg. It's safe to say that if you have a ruptured Achilles tendon, you'll be getting Achilles tendon surgery very very soon.
The tendon usually ruptures without any warning. It is most common in men between the ages of 40-50, who play sports intermittently, such as badminton and squash. There was probably some degeneration in the tendon before the rupture which may or may not have been causing symptoms.
Often the person feels a whip-like blow that is followed by weakness in the affected leg - usually he or she is not able to walk afterwards. At place where the tendon ruptured, a significant dent is palpable. Often the experienced physician can diagnose a ruptured Achilles tendon by way of clinical examination and special function tests. Imaging techniques, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allow for a more precise diagnosis.
Diagnosis is made by clinical history; typically people say it feels like being kicked or shot behind the ankle. Upon examination a gap may be felt just above the heel unless swelling has filled the gap and the Simmonds' test (aka Thompson test) will be positive; squeezing the calf muscles of the affected side while the patient lies prone, face down, with his feet hanging loose results in no movement (no passive plantarflexion) of the foot, while movement is expected with an intact Achilles tendon and should be observable upon manipulation of the uninvolved calf. Walking will usually be severely impaired, as the patient will be unable to step off the ground using the injured leg. The patient will also be unable to stand up on the toes of that leg, and pointing the foot downward (plantarflexion) will be impaired. Pain may be severe, and swelling is common. Sometimes an ultrasound scan may be required to clarify or confirm the diagnosis. MRI can also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-operative treatment consists of placing the foot in a downward position [equinus] and providing relative immobilization of the foot in this position until the Achilles has healed. This typically involves some type of stable bracing or relative immobilization for 6 weeks, often with limited or no weight bearing. The patient can then be transitioned to a boot with a heel lift and then gradually increase their activity level within the boot. It is very important that the status of the Achilles is monitored throughout non-operative treatment. This can be done by examination or via ultrasound. If there is evidence of gapping or non-healing, surgery may need to be considered. Formal protocols have been developed to help optimize non-operative treatments and excellent results have been reported with these protocols. The focus of these treatments is to ensure that the Achilles rupture is in continuity and is healing in a satisfactory manner. The primary advantage of non-operative treatment is that without an incision in this area, there are no problems with wound healing or infection. Wound infection following Achilles tendon surgery can be a devastating complication and therefore, for many patients, non-operative treatment should be contemplated. The main disadvantage of non-operative treatment is that the recovery is probably slower. On average, the main checkpoints of recovery occur 3-4 weeks quicker with operative treatment than with non-operative treatment. In addition, the re-rupture rate appears to be higher with some non-operative treatments. Re-rupture typically occurs 8-18 months after the original injury.
Most published reports on surgical treatment fall into 3 different surgical approach categories that include the following: direct open, minimally invasive, and percutaneous. In multiple studies surgical treatment has demonstrated a lower rate of re-rupture compared to nonoperative treatment, but surgical treatment is associated with a higher rate of wound healing problems, infection, postoperative pain, adhesions, and nerve damage. Most commonly the direct open approach involves a 10- to 18-cm posteromedial incision. The minimally invasive approach has a 3- to 10-cm incision, and the percutaneous approach involves repairing the tendon through multiple small incisions. As with nonsurgical treatment there exists wide variation in the reported literature regarding postoperative treatment protocols. Multiple comparative studies have been published comparing different surgical approaches, repair methods, or postoperative treatment protocols.