Overview The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body. It plays a very important role in most sport activities and is particularly vulnerable to overloading from repetitive running and jumping. The Achilles tendon forms a joint distal tendon for the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles. These muscles combine to form the triceps surae muscle. Athletes who sustain Achilles tendon ruptures most frequently are those who participate in ball sports that demand rapid changes of direction and quick, reactive jumps (e.g., tennis, squash, badminton, and soccer), in addition to runners and jumpers in track and field. Sometimes a patient with a ruptured tendon has a history of long-term pain localized to the tendon, but more often the rupture occurs without warning. Such ruptures are often caused by degenerative changes in the tendon (tendinosis), usually in the segment of the tendon that has the worst blood supply. This segment extends from 2 to 6 cm proximal to the insertion of the tendon onto the calcaneus. Causes Achilles tendon rupture occurs in people that engage in strenuous activity, who are usually sedentary and have weakened tendons, or in people who have had previous chronic injury to their Achilles tendons. Previous injury to the tendon can be caused by overuse, improper stretching habits, worn-out or improperly fitting shoes, or poor biomechanics (flat-feet). The risk of tendon rupture is also increased with the use of quinolone antibiotics (e.g. ciprofloxacin, Levaquin). Symptoms Patients who suffer an acute rupture of the Achilles tendon often report hearing a "pop" or "snap." Patients usually have severe pain the back of the lower leg near the heel. This may or may not be accompanied by swelling. Additionally, because the function of the Achilles tendon is to enable plantarflexion (bending the foot downward), patients often have difficulty walking or standing up on their toes. Diagnosis Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. Your doctor may ask you to do a series of movements or exercises to see how well you can move your lower leg. He or she may also examine your leg, heel and ankle and may squeeze your calf muscle to check the movement of your foot. You may need to have further tests to confirm if your tendon is torn, which may include the following. An ultrasound scan. This uses sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your leg. An MRI scan. This uses magnets and radio waves to produce images of the inside of your leg. Non Surgical Treatment Non-surgical treatment of Achilles tendon rupture is usually reserved for patients who are relatively sedentary or may be at higher risk for complications with surgical intervention (due to other associated medical problems). This involves a period of immobilization, followed by range of motion and strengthening exercises; unfortunately, it is associated with a higher risk of re-rupture of the tendon, and possibly a less optimal functional outcome. Surgical Treatment Surgery may be indicated directly following injury rather than conservative care. Repair of an achilles tendon rupture is greatly varied for each clinical situation. There may be a direct repair of the ends of the tendon with suture, or possibly a tendon graft used to augment the tendon. Post-operatively, the period of immobilization will depend on the size of the defect that was repaired and how it was completed. Usually the immobilization is between 6-10 weeks. This repair may allow for a complete return to normal function, but in many instances the healing is complicated with adhesions and a partial loss of range of motion. There may be a continued soft tissue defect noted and a permanent or prolonged swelling. Prevention To prevent Achilles tendonitis or rupture, the following tips are recommended. Avoid activities that place an enormous stress on the heel (for example, uphill running or excessive jumping). Stop all activity if there is pain at the back of the heel. If pain resumes with one particular exercise, another exercise should be selected. Wear proper shoes. Gradually strengthen calf muscles with sit-ups if prior episodes of Achilles tendonitis have occurred. Always warm up with stretching exercises before any activity. Avoid high-impact sports if prior episodes of Achilles tendon injury.