Achilles Tendon Rupture

Performing minimally invasive percutaneous Achilles tendon repair

The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in your body, attaching your calf muscle to the heel. It is built to handle tremendous loads. Your Achilles tendon helps propel you upward when you jump and forward when you walk and run. It also absorbs impact and keeps you stable when you land.

Despite its strength, Achilles tendon ruptures are a common injury we treat here at Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine. The good news is that with the help of an experienced orthopedic surgeon, patients who have suffered an Achilles rupture usually heal fully and resume their active lives.

What is an Achilles tendon rupture?

A rupture refers to a partial or complete tear in the tissues that make up the Achilles tendon. Ruptures can result from acute trauma, such as falling, jumping from a significant height, or stepping into hole. A rupture can also occur as an overuse injury following repeated strain from running, jumping, dancing or other sports.

In rare cases, an Achilles rupture may occur after using medications that are known to weaken tendons, such as steroid injections or certain antibiotics (i.e. Levaquin or Cipro). Ruptures are also more likely if you are older, male or overweight.

The  Achilles can tear at any point along the tendon, from several inches above the back of the ankle, to just above the heel. In severe ruptures, a portion of the heel bone where the Achilles attaches may pull away.

How do I know if I have a torn Achilles tendon?

The only way to know for sure if you have ruptured your Achilles is to see an experienced orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist or sports medicine doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis. That said, the following are signs you may have torn your Achilles tendon:

  • You heard or felt a pop at the back of the calf when you injured your leg
  • You have pain, bruising and/or swelling at the back of the ankle
  • It feels like someone kicked you in the calf
  • You cannot bear weight or push off the ground using the injured leg

If you suspect an Achilles rupture, or you are experiencing significant pain, swelling or instability in your ankle or foot, see a doctor as soon as possible.

How can a torn Achilles be treated?

Treatment for an Achilles rupture will depend on the cause, severity of injury, and location of the tear, so the first step is to see an experienced sports injury doctor.

To diagnose your injury and recommend a treatment, your doctor will discuss with you the nature of your injury, your medical history and your goals. They will evaluate your injury, squeezing your calf to see if the Achilles is able to flex and point your foot normally (the Thompson test). They may also order an X-ray or MRI to assess the damage and check for any injury to the surrounding bones, ligaments or muscles.

Non-surgical treatment for an Achilles rupture

Achilles tears can often be successfully treated without surgery, particularly in the case of partial tears or ruptures that occur higher up on the tendon, closer to the calf muscle,  where there is relatively good blood supply. Non-surgical treatments may include:

  • Resting the leg, including using crutches for a period
  • Icing the area periodically to control swelling
  • Anti-inflammatory medications or pain relievers, such as Advil, Aleve or Tylenol
  • Immobilization with a cast, progressing to a walking boot as the injury heals

Surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon

If you are normally very physically active, surgery may be the best option to restore full function to your Achilles tendon. Surgery is typically performed as an outpatient procedure. After making an incision in the back of your leg, the Achilles tendon is sutured back together.

How long does it take for an Achilles rupture to heal?

Recovery time varies from a few weeks to six months or longer, depending on the severity of your injury, the treatment, and your desired activity level. Following your doctor’s instructions for recovery is key, as doing too much to soon will risk re-injury.

Contact us to make an appointment

If you have injured your Achilles tendon, foot or ankle, we can help you get to the bottom of your injury and find an effective treatment to get back on your feet. Please call Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine at 828-253-7521 to make an appointment in Asheville or Valdese.