The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. An Achilles tendon rupture can happen when the tendon is overstretched when engaging in an activity such as jumping, which can result in a partial or complete tear. This type of injury can be painful and debilitating, but it is possible to fully recover with proper treatment. Some Achilles tendon ruptures can be treated non-surgically, while others may require surgery. The decision to perform surgery depends on the extent of the injury and your health status, age, and activity level. Your podiatrist will determine what treatment is right for your specific needs.
Signs of an Achilles Tendon Rupture
To diagnose an Achilles tendon rupture, your doctor will conduct a physical exam to check for swelling, bruising, and tenderness in the back of the ankle and calf. Along with the physical exam, a Thompson test may be performed where you lay down on your stomach with your feet off the end of the exam table. The doctor will squeeze your calf muscle to see if your foot will automatically point downward, and if there is no foot movement, it possibly indicates a ruptured Achilles tendon. In addition, a doctor may order imaging tests such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI to assess the extent of the injury. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment options can be discussed.
- Rest. Resting the affected leg is the first step in treating an Achilles tendon rupture. This means avoiding activities that can strain the tendon, such as running, jumping, or climbing stairs.
- Ice. Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce pain and inflammation. Ice should be used for 15-20 minutes several times a day.
- Compression. A compression bandage can help reduce swelling and support the affected area while it heals.
- Elevation. Keeping the affected leg elevated can help reduce swelling and promote healing.
- Immobilization. A cast, brace, or boot may be placed on the affected foot to keep it immobilized while the injury heals.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapy may be recommended to help strengthen the affected leg and prevent further injury once the initial pain and swelling have diminished.
Even conservative treatments have risks. It is possible to have another Achilles tendon rupture after using non-surgical approaches.
There are many factors to consider when deciding if surgery is necessary for a ruptured Achilles tendon. Surgery may be recommended for a complete tear or if the tendon has pulled away from the bone. Surgery may also be recommended if the person has difficulty walking or if they experience continued pain and swelling after trying non-surgical approaches that have not been successful in reducing symptoms.
Surgery is often recommended for those who are younger or physically active. Surgery can be done to repair or reattach the tendon to the bone. Depending on the individual, recovery time after surgery can be several months.
Discussing Surgery With Your Doctor
- Type of surgery. Different types of surgery can be used to repair an Achilles tendon rupture. Your doctor will recommend the best option based on your individual needs.
- Possible risks and complications. As with any surgery, there are risks and potential complications associated with Achilles tendon surgery. Risks may include infection, nerve damage, blood clots, or continued pain in the foot and ankle.
- Recovery time. Recovery time will vary depending on the type of surgery and the extent of the injury. Your doctor can estimate how long it will take to recover and when you can expect to return to normal activities.
- Physical therapy. After surgery, physical therapy will be an essential part of the recovery process. Your doctor can recommend a physical therapist and provide guidance on what to expect.
Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists Go the Distance for You
When you have a foot or an ankle problem, you want a team of specialists who will give you clear answers about your condition, treat you with state-of-the-art equipment, and provide you with a treatment plan that directly addresses your specific issue. Our podiatrists understand the importance of healthy feet, and with their education and training, they provide you with the best options for a speedy recovery.
The award-winning podiatrists at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists are recognized across the country for their depth of knowledge, treatment options, and outstanding service. If you are experiencing foot or ankle pain, contact us at 512-328-8900, or take advantage of our online appointment scheduling.