Achilles Tendon Rupture

Dr. Christine Seaworth, a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon in Knoxville, Tennessee, discusses Achilles tendon rupture and treatment options to get you back on your feet in this patient education article.

The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body and helps you to push off as you walk and run to propel yourself forward. The tendon helps connect your calf muscle to your heel bone, the calcaneus. Over time the tendon can become weakened, and the tendon is at increased risk to rupture.

Injuries to the tendon may occur when there is a sudden change in loading of the tendon. You may be jumping, landing from a jump, changing directions, or starting to run. This commonly happens more in patients 30–50 years of age but can happen even when an athlete is in their 20s or 70s. Patients often think someone has kicked them in the back of the leg or that they were hit by something large and blunt. The injury can be extremely painful at the time of rupture, create large amounts of swelling and bruising, and make it difficult to walk. Other times patients may think they have just sprained their ankle and not realize the extent of their injury for many weeks when they notice their balance is off as they have lost the ability to push off as they walk.

Evaluation of the injury in the emergency room or orthopedic clinic will usually include X-rays to rule out fractures as well as a complete physical exam. The Thompson test, an important physical exam maneuver, determines if the Achilles tendon has ruptured or if another injury has occurred such as a tear to the calf muscle instead of the tendon. Occasionally, an MRI will be ordered to provide more information on the Achilles tendon tear and help with the treatment plan.

Once the diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture has been made, a decision on whether or not to pursue operative or nonoperative intervention is determined. With appropriate treatment plans, both options can have good outcomes. Surgical intervention is likely to return you to activity sooner with decreased risk of re-rupture of your tendon. For patients with pre-existing conditions such as tobacco use, diabetes, history of falls, or poor blood flow to the leg, nonoperative treatment can be a better option to decrease the risk of complications such as delayed wound healing and infection. For most active and healthy patients, surgical repair will be recommended.

University Orthoped Surgeons offers personalized foot and ankle expertise

If you are worried you may have ruptured your Achilles tendon or have been diagnosed with a torn tendon elsewhere, our specialty-trained foot and ankle surgeon, Dr. Christine Seaworth, and her physician assistant, William Short, are here to help at our UT Medical Center, West Knoxville, or Sevierville locations. You can request an appointment online or call (865) 546-2663 for our UT Medical Center and Sevierville offices, (865) 218-9300 for our West Knoxville office. Telemedicine appointments are also available by request.

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