Achilles Tendon Rupture: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Xray of an althlete's bone structure

Professional athletes are exposed to different sorts of injuries. Although they condition their bodies for the physical strain of sports, they still suffer from injuries whenever they train or compete. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 2,000 injuries per 10,000 players.

The frequent and intense stress endured by their bodies can eventually lead to the deterioration of their muscles, joints, ligaments, and other body parts that are prone to wear and tear. One of these is the Achilles tendon, a bundle of fibers connecting the heel bone to the calf muscles at the back of the ankle. This tendon supports the calf and ankle when jumping, walking, running, and doing other movements.

Causes

An Achilles tendon rupture can either be a partial or a complete tear. This is usually the result of repetitive or excessive stress on the feet and ankles. Athletes from sports that require a rapid change of direction or pace, such as soccer, football, basketball, or tennis often sustain injuries to their Achilles tendon.

People who are first starting a sport or returning to a strenuous activity after a hiatus are more likely to sustain this injury. Improper or inadequate warm-up exercises may also lead to a tear in the Achilles tendon.

Injuries to this area may also occur due to a slip or fall, which is why proper sports grounds maintenance is important, especially for high-intensity contact sports. Sport facility managers should regularly perform tennis court refinishing and resurfacing, pressure cleaning for basketball courts, and topdressing for football fields.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

A tear in the Achilles tendon may show any of the following symptoms:

  • Stiffness in the legs or heel
  • Difficulty walking or moving the foot
  • Pain in the heel or back of the leg
  • Pain that worsens when moving the foot or ankle
  • Swelling around the heel
  • A snapping or popping sound when the injury occurred

A doctor will ask about the symptoms and review a patient’s medical history. After, he or she will perform a physical examination of the affected leg. The doctor may also recommend an x-ray or MRI scan to see whether there’s a tear or inflammation in any of the bones, tendons, or ligaments. These tests are important in determining an Achilles tendon rupture, especially since its symptoms overlap with the symptoms of a sprained ankle and other injuries.

Treatment

Man with casted leg having a checkip

The treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture depends on its severity and whether the tear is partial or complete. For mild injuries, ample rest and recovery time, over-the-counter pain relievers, and cold compress are enough to heal the rupture.

One nonsurgical option a doctor may recommend is a cast that starts above the knee and extends to the toes. Initially, the foot will be pointed downward. Over the next weeks, the doctor will replace it with shorter casts and move the foot back to its normal position. The patient will have to wear the cast for 6 to 12 weeks.

Severe ruptures may also call for a surgery where the surgeon sews the tendon back together. Achilles tendon surgeries are generally successful, with more than 80 out of 100 patients returning to sports after undergoing the operation.

An Achilles tendon rupture is a common fear among professional athletes, along with an ACL injury. But with proper treatment, after-surgery care, and help from medical professionals, patients can be well on their way to recovery. They’ll be playing their sports again in no time.