Overview A torn or ruptured Achilles tendon is simply no fun at all. This essential cord of strong, fibrous material attaches the heel bone to the calf muscles and is used in just about every movement, from walking and running to jumping and standing on your tip-toes. It also helps bend the foot downwards at the ankle. As the strongest tendon in the body, the Achilles can withstand a force of about 1,000 pounds. About 7 out of every 100,000 people will suffer from a ruptured Achilles at some point in time, with over 80% of these injuries occurring during a recreational sports activity. Athletes have a 24% chance of tearing their Achilles, but competitive runners have a 40 to 50% chance of Achilles tendon rupture during their lifetime. Causes Factors that may increase your risk of Achilles tendon rupture include some of the following. Age. The peak age for Achilles tendon rupture is 30 to 40. Sex. Achilles tendon rupture is up to five times more likely to occur in men than in women. Recreational sports. Achilles tendon injuries occur more often during sports that involve running, jumping, and sudden starts and stops, such as soccer, basketball and tennis. Steroid injections. Doctors sometimes inject steroids into an ankle joint to reduce pain and inflammation. However, this medication can weaken nearby tendons and has been associated with Achilles tendon ruptures. Certain antibiotics. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or levofloxacin (Levaquin), increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture. Symptoms The pain from an Achilles tendon rupture is usually felt in the back of the lower leg, in the area 2 to 6 cm. above the Achilles tendon's attachment to the calcaneus. Individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture often describe a "pop" or similar feeling at the time of the injury. A "hole" or defect in the Achilles tendon can usually be felt under the skin in this area. A limp and inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot are usually present. If the affected foot does not plantar flex when the calf muscles are squeezed an Achilles tendon rupture is very likely. Diagnosis During the clinical examination, the patient will have significantly reduced ankle plantar flexion strength on the involved side. When the tendon is palpated with one finger on either side, the tendon can be followed from the calcaneus to where it "disappears" in the area of the rupture and to where it then returns 2 to 3 cm proximal to the rupture. If the injury is recent, the patient indicates that her pain is localized at the site of the rupture. The defect eventually fills with blood and edema and the skin over the area becomes ecchymotic. 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. Surgical Treatment The goal of surgery is to realign the two ends of the ruptured tendon to allow healing. There are multiple techniques to accomplish this goal that will vary from surgeon to surgeon. Recovery from this injury is usually very successful with return to full function in approximately 6 months. Post operatively casting is required with the use of crutches or other means to remain non-weightbearing for 4-8 weeks. This is followed by a course of physical therapy. Partial rupture may or may not require surgical intervention depending on the extent of injury but cast immobilization is a common requirement. Prevention To reduce your chance of developing Achilles tendon problems, follow the following tips. Stretch and strengthen calf muscles. Stretch your calf to the point at which you feel a noticeable pull but not pain. Don't bounce during a stretch. Calf-strengthening exercises can also help the muscle and tendon absorb more force and prevent injury. Vary your exercises. Alternate high-impact sports, such as running, with low-impact sports, such as walking, biking or swimming. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your Achilles tendons, such as hill running and jumping activities. Choose running surfaces carefully. Avoid or limit running on hard or slippery surfaces. Dress properly for cold-weather training and wear well-fitting athletic shoes with proper cushioning in the heels. Increase training intensity slowly. Achilles tendon injuries commonly occur after abruptly increasing training intensity. Increase the distance, duration and frequency of your training by no more than 10 percent each week.