The Achilles tendon connects the muscle in your calf to the back of the heel bone. The job of the Achilles tendon is to point your foot downwards, aiding in the ‘push off’ phase of gait. This tendon is naturally very strong; however, if it experiences abnormal forces it can rupture.
Achilles tendon rupture is most common between 30 and 40 years old and five times more common in men than women. Ruptures most often occur during recreational sports, from a fall where you land on your feet, or from stepping in a hole or other uneven surface. Certain antibiotics and local steroid injections can also increase the likelihood of a rupture, although less common.
Symptoms include a pop when the rupture occurs, localized swelling and redness at the back of the heel, difficulty pushing off while walking and inability to stand on your tip toes. Depending on your activity level and age, you and your podiatrist may opt for a conservative or surgical treatment approach. Many younger, active individuals opt for surgical repair, whereas older individuals may prefer conservative treatment. Both have good outcomes and typically take 4 to 6 months before returning to normal activities.
Surgical repair may have a slightly faster recovery and less likelihood of a re-rupture. This is often why it is preferred in young, active individuals. Conservative care, on the other hand, consists of wearing a cast or walking boot that immobilizes the tendon and allows it to heal. Although this may be a more lengthy process, you are able to avoid the risks associated with surgery. Both treatments will require rehabilitation (e.g. physical therapy) to regain complete function.
The risk of rupturing your Achilles tendon can be decreased by stretching your calf muscle before and after engaging in physical activity, avoiding uneven surfaces when running or walking and gradually increasing training intensity. Although not all ruptures can be avoided, following these suggested guidelines should decrease your risk significantly.
If you or a family member has any concerns about an Achilles tendon rupture or any other foot problems, please consider making an appointment with either Dr. Gary N. Friedlander or Dr. Jay Larson at Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists in Glendale, Arizona. We want to get you back on your feet so you can enjoy all of your recreational activities!