Medically Reviewed by: Adam Ploeg, MS, ATC, McLeod Sports Medicine
Ray loved weekend pick up football games. The competition. The excitement. The flashback to his high school football days. He’d stop, turn quickly and leap to catch a pass. Then… snap, pop. Ow! What happened? Ray fell to the ground with a stabbing pain in the back of his ankle.
Ray’s not in high school anymore and his season is over. Like many 30 to 50 year-old recreational athletes — who run, or play basketball and football – Ray has torn his Achilles tendon.
ACHILLES TENDON RUPTURE – DESCRIPTION
“Tendons connect muscle to bone,” says McLeod Sports Medicine Certified Athletic Trainer Adam Ploeg. “The Achilles is the largest tendon in the body and connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. You use it every time you run, jump or even walk. And, because it is a bundle of fibers, when the Achilles tendon rips apart, it is more of a shredding than a clean tear.”
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Signs that you have torn your Achilles tendon include the sound of the fibers ripping. Many describe the sound as a loud audible pop. These individuals often turn around looking for the noise. This sound is followed by pain and difficulty standing. It is usually a single, dramatic event that tears the ligament.
Achilles Tendinitis is another medical issue, usually not related to a single injury. Tendinitis which is caused by a sudden increase in exercise intensity is also accompanied by pain and swelling. Standard treatment includes “R-I-C-E” (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) along with “No H-A-R-M” protocol (no Heat, no Alcohol, no Running and no Massage). To complete the recovery plan, add some anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) and possibly a brace to stabilize the leg. Tendinitis does not require surgery, but if left uncared for over the course of time could cause significant damage.
ACHILLES TENDON RUPTURE – TREATMENT
If you suffer what you think is an Achilles tendon rupture, see an Orthopedic Specialist. Their examination can determine the extent of the injury and the best treatment option.
A rupture can be treated without surgery, allowing the tear to heal itself. However with surgery, the chances of re-injuring the tendon are greatly reduced.
Following surgery, your leg will be in a cast or boot from the knee down and immobilized for 8 to 12 weeks. For part of that period, you will need to keep weight off the foot. Near the end, you will need some physical therapy.
With successful surgery, patients can expect only a 5% chance of another Achilles tendon tear or rupture. Even better, surgery often results in stronger push-off strength, while improving muscle function and ankle movement.
RETURNING TO YOUR SPORT
Hold off on going back to sports for 4 months at a minimum – maybe longer — depending on your Orthopedic Specialist’s advice.
Here are some tips to help prevent any further injury:
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, American Association of Family Physicians, Sports Medicine Australia, American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons