Medically Reviewed by Jason B. O’Dell, MD
Here’s a quick lesson in Greek Mythology you can share at your next social gathering.
Achilles, a warrior in Greek mythology, was invulnerable except for a spot on his heel. The mythology story – Achilles mother dipping him as a baby into the magic River Styx except for his heel — is so popular that the tendon connecting our calf muscle to our heel bone is identified as the Achilles tendon.
Beyond its connection to Greek myths, the Achilles tendon is distinctive, because it’s:
“A full tear means the tendon is completely torn – not attached. And you will need surgery to re-attach the two pieces,” says Foot and Ankle Orthopedic Specialist Jason O’Dell, MD. “A partial tear means some of the tendon is still intact. We might try a foot-to-knee cast, leg brace or boot to keep you from moving. Or surgery may be needed.”
HOW IS THE TENDON RUPTURED?
There is no best way to avoid harming the Achilles tendon. Even healthy active people or athletes in exceptional physical shape have no insurance against injury.
People most likely to tear their Achilles tendon are men between 30-40 years old. It most often occurs on the left side, because many people jump or start running by pushing off their left foot.
Other actions that can lead to a tendon tear include:
The rupture often occurs in the midsection of the tendon. A snap or crack followed by sharp pain accompanies the injury.
After the rupture, you may have trouble moving your foot or standing on your toes. You’ll see swelling and bruises on your leg or foot.
Returning to normal movement and quality of life takes time – often six to nine months — even among active, healthy young athletes. After the surgery and the splint or cast comes off, some serious physical therapy is in order. It starts with simply moving your foot up and down, then improving your flexibility and strengthening your calf muscles.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
The symptoms of an Achilles tendon rupture are straightforward and immediately apparent. You should raise the leg and put ice on the injury. See your Orthopedic Specialist as soon as possible for an evaluation and to discuss the best treatment for you.
Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, SportsDoc Blog, National Institutes of Health, American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society