Overview The Achilles tendon connects the muscles in the back of your lower leg to your heel bone. It allows you to move your foot down (?step on the gas? motion). This movement is essential for walking, running, and jumping. A sudden strong contraction of the lower leg (such as when playing sports) can partially tear or rupture the Achilles tendon. This injury is more likely if there is prior injury or inflammation of that tendon from prior stress. You may feel a pop or snap, or like you have been kicked. An Achilles tendon tear will cause local swelling and pain and difficulty in walking. A complete Achilles rupture is usually treated with surgery to attach the torn ends of the tendon. This is followed by 6-8 weeks in a walking cast, boot, or splint. Nonsurgical treatment is an option, but it will take longer to heal and the risk of repeat rupture is greater. With either type of treatment, you will need a physical therapy program to strengthen your Achilles tendon. It will take 4-6 months to return to your former level of activity. Causes The most common cause of a ruptured Achilles' tendon is when too much stress is placed through the tendon, particularly when pushing off with the foot. This may happen when playing sports such as football, basketball or tennis where the foot is dorsiflexed or pushed into an upward position during a fall. If the Achilles' tendon is weak, it is prone to rupture. Various factors can cause weakness, including corticosteroid medication and injections, certain diseases caused by hormone imbalance and tendonitis. Old age can also increase the risk of Achilles' tendon rupture. Symptoms A person with a ruptured Achilles tendon may experience one or more of the following. Sudden pain (which feels like a kick or a stab) in the back of the ankle or calf, often subsiding into a dull ache. A popping or snapping sensation. Swelling on the back of the leg between the heel and the calf. Difficulty walking (especially upstairs or uphill) and difficulty rising up on the toes. These symptoms require prompt medical attention to prevent further damage. Until the patient is able to see a doctor, the "R.I.C.E." method should be used. This involves, rest. Stay off the injured foot and ankle, since walking can cause pain or further damage. Ice. Apply a bag of ice covered with a thin towel to reduce swelling and pain. Do not put ice directly against the skin. Compression. Wrap the foot and ankle in an elastic bandage to prevent further swelling. Elevation. Keep the leg elevated to reduce the swelling. It should be even with or slightly above heart level. Diagnosis The actual area of an Achilles tendon rupture cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture these x-rays are usually normal. Diagnostic ultrasound of the tendon can be performed to assess the integrity of the tendon. Other diagnostic tests, such as MRI's, may also be required in difficult cases. Non Surgical Treatment Achilles tendon ruptures can be treated non-operatively or operatively. Both of these treatment approaches have advantages and disadvantages. In general, younger patients with no medical problems may tend to do better with operative treatment, whereas patients with significant medical problems or older age may be best served with non-operative treatment. However, the decision of how the Achilles tendon rupture is treated should be based on each individual patient after the advantages and disadvantages of both treatment options are reviewed. It is important to realize that while Achilles tendon ruptures can be treated either non-operatively or operatively, they must be treated. A neglected Achilles tendon rupture (i.e. one where the tendon ends are not kept opposed) will lead to marked problems of the leg in walking, which may eventually lead to other limb and joint problems. Furthermore, late reconstruction of non-treated Achilles tendon rupture is significantly more complex than timely treatment. Surgical Treatment A completely ruptured Achilles tendon requires surgery and up to 12 weeks in a cast. Partial tears are sometimes are treated with surgery following by a cast. Because the tendon shortens as it heals, a heel lift is used for 6 months or more after the cast comes off. Physical therapy to regain flexibility and then strength are begun as soon as the cast is off.