The Achilles' tendon is located in the leg just behind and above the heel. As the connection between the heel and calf muscle, its function is to allow the bending of the foot downwards. Generally if there is a tear to the Achilles' tendon it will be known as a rupture. This can be a partial tear or a complete tear, although partial tears are much rarer.
Your Achilles tendon helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon located within 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section may be predisposed to rupture because it gets less blood flow, which may impair its ability to heal. Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. Common examples include increasing the intensity of sports participation, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.
Whereas calf strains and tendonitis may cause tightness or pain in the leg, Achilles tendon ruptures are typically accompanied by a popping sensation and noise at the time of the injury. In fact, some patients joke that the popping sound was loud enough to make them think they?d been shot. Seeing a board-certified orthopedic surgeon is the best way to determine whether you have suffered an Achilles tendon tear.
The diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture can be made easily by an orthopedic surgeon. The defect in the tendon is easy to see and to palpate. No x-ray, MRI or other tests are necessary.
Non Surgical Treatment
Nonsurgical treatment involves extended casting, special braces, orthotics, and physical therapy. Avoids the normal complications and expenses of surgery. Some studies show the outcome is similar to surgery in regard to strength and function. There is risk of an over-lengthened tendon with inadequate tension. Extended immobilization can lead to more muscle weakness. Nonsurgical treatment has a higher incidence of re-rupture than surgical repair. Nonsurgical treatment is often used for nonathletes or for those with a general low level of physical activity who would not benefit from surgery. The elderly and those with complicating medical conditions should also consider conservative nonsurgical treatment.
While it is possible to treat an Achilles tendon rupture without surgery, this is not ideal since the maximum strength of the muscle and tendon rarely returns. The reason is the ends of the tendon are ruptured in a very irregular manner, almost like the ends of a paint brush. As soon as the tendon ruptures, the calf muscle (gastrocnemius muscle) continues to pull on the tendon and the end of the ruptured tendon pulls back into the leg, which is called retraction. Once the tendon retracts, it is never possible to get sufficient strength back without surgery, because the muscle no longer functions at the correct biomechanical length and is now stretched out. There are patients for whom surgery cannot be performed, in particular, due to existing medical conditions that may add to potential for complications following surgery. For these patients, a specially designed boot that positions the foot correctly and takes the pressure and tension off the muscle and tendon is used. Most importantly, a cast is never used because it causes permanent shrinkage (atrophy) of the calf muscle. The special boot permits pressure on the foot with walking. The boot also has a hinge to permit movement of the ankle. Many studies of Achilles tendon ruptures have shown that this movement of the foot in the boot while walking is ideal for tendon healing. If surgery is not recommended, it is essential to obtain special tests to check that the ends of the tendon are lying next to each other so that healing can occur. The best test to do this is an ultrasound and not an MRI.