Athletes often feel as though someone has kicked them from behind and may be puzzled when they don't see anyone behind them. This is a typical symptom of a rupture of the Achilles tendon.
Whether your doctor recommends surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon may depend partly on your age and activity level, foot experts say.
Complete or partial tear
The Achilles tendon is a band of tissue that runs down the back of the lower leg and connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. A rupture is a complete or partial tear of the tendon that leaves the heel bone separated or partially separated from the knee.
An Achilles tendon rupture is one of the worst sports injuries, but it is possible to recover from it.
What can you do?
- Apply RICE for the first three days: Rest – slows down bleeding and reduces the risk of further damage; Ice – eases pain, reduces swelling, reduces bleeding initially; Compression – reduces bleeding and swelling; Elevation – reduces bleeding and swelling by allowing fluids to flow away from the site of injury.
- Use crutches
- See a sports injury specialist or doctor
Recovery time varies
Length of recovery from this type of injury varies depending on whether a patient undergoes surgical or nonsurgical treatment.
"Treatment processes are dependent upon a patient's overall health, activity level and ability to follow a functional rehabilitation protocol," said Dr Jeffrey McAlister, a foot and ankle surgeon in Sun City West, Arizona.
Advances in treating Achilles tendon rupture were discussed by McAlister and other specialists at a recent meeting of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, in Las Vegas.
Nonsurgical treatment, longer rehabilitation
Typically, less active and unhealthy patients receive nonsurgical treatment, since they are not trying to return to active sports, McAlister said in a college news release. But this approach usually involves a long rehabilitation/recovery period (9-12 months). Also, these patients may be at increased risk of potentially dangerous blood clots due to inactivity during this period.
"For more athletic and younger patients, the surgical option may be best," said Dr Michael VanPelt, a Dallas foot and ankle surgeon. "We anticipate these patients have shorter healing times."
But because there is low blood flow to the Achilles tendon, healing after surgery can be tricky.
Dr Jason Kayce, a Phoenix foot and ankle surgeon, said that advances in surgical techniques to repair Achilles tendon ruptures include:
- Limited incision
- Smaller incisions
- Surgical approaches to help patients have smaller scars and less of a chance of wound complications