It generally happens without warning. For a moment your feet and legs are doing what they are supposed to do, then in the next moment things change. Your ankle hurts and you can barely move your foot, much less walk. If this sounds familiar, you may have ruptured your Achilles tendon. This is a painful and serious injury that needs urgent care. However, with time and the right treatment, you should be able to bounce back to your normal routine.
The Responsible Tendon
Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle—one of your foot’s main movers—to your heel, making it possible for you to push off or stand on your toes. Like any other tendon or ligament in your body, it’s possible to partially or completely tear this major connector. Both complete tears, called ruptures, and partial tears, are traumatic injuries that limit your mobility and require intervention and time to heal.
Many tears are from overuse, especially related to sudden activity or poor conditioning. Athletes, men over 30, and senior citizens have the highest risks for this kind of damage. If you are older or mostly sedentary, and try to become very active in a short period of time, your tendon may not be able to handle the strain. Existing foot conditions that put extra pressure on the heel, such as bad arches, can weaken the tendon and make it prone to injury. Hard impacts and sudden push-offs also stress the connecting tissues, so many activities are considered “high-risk,” including running, dance, gymnastics, and traditional sports.
Sudden Pop, Sudden Stop
When you rupture your Achilles, you feel a sharp, immediate pain. Sometimes you can hear a “pop” or “snap” as the connecting tissue tears. Your foot will get significantly weaker, making it harder to move around. In a partial tear, you may find that you can still point your toes and use your foot to push off, though it will be painful. If you have torn it completely, however, you won’t have any strength to push off the ground, making walking very challenging. The area around your heel and ankle will swell and possibly bruise. After it happens, it is very important to seek treatment right away. The longer a tear or rupture is left alone, the harder it is to remedy and the longer it takes to heal.
Repairing the Damage
A partial tear has multiple options. Depending on the severity of your injury and pain, Drs. David Laurino and Antonius Su can offer some conservative options for healing. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications help bring down the swelling. You may be asked to keep your ankle elevated for a time. Your foot will need to be immobilized while the tendon heals, so you may have to wear a cast, splint, brace, or boot. Likely you will perform a number of physical therapy exercises to stretch and strengthen the tendon. If your Achilles does not seem to be healing, the original injury is significant, or you re-damage it, you may need corrective surgery.
A complete tear of the tissues generally requires surgery to reconnect the severed ends and allow them to grow together again. The experts at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona will examine your foot and ankle to determine if it is a true rupture, then advise you about surgery. After the procedure, your foot will be held in a cast, splint, brace, or boot while it heals. You’ll need to perform physical therapy exercises, too, once Drs. Laurino and Su say you’re ready to stretch and build up strength.
Saving Yourself the Pain
Because this is frequently an overuse injury, it is possible to avoid the distress altogether with some simple prevention measures. Good, supportive shoes or custom orthotics relieve stress on the ankle and Achilles. Proper warm up and cool down, including stretches, help the tissues relax. Building up strength over time, especially through cross-training, gives your muscles and connectors a chance to adjust to activities and handle the pressure.
Achilles tendon injuries are serious and shouldn’t be ignored. Prompt treatment can mean the difference between smooth healing and a long period of sitting on the sidelines in pain. If you’ve experienced an Achilles tendon injury, don’t wait to seek treatment. Contact the experts at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona for an appointment or more information by visiting the contact page online or by calling/faxing one of our two convenient Arizona locations: to reach our Chandler office, call (480) 963-9000 or fax to (480) 963-0375. Dial our Gilbert location at (480) 981-1800 or send a fax to (480) 981-0229.