What is an Achilles tendon injury?
The Achilles tendon connects the large muscles of the calf to the back of the heel bone. The tendon is in constant use as it helps you to walk, run and jump. As such, it is prone to injury. An Achilles tendon injury can range from a small tear to a complete rupture of the tendon, which means the tendon can no longer do its job.
What causes an Achilles tendon injury?
Achilles tendon injuries can be caused by any activity that repeatedly uses the tendon. Increasing the stress on the tendon can cause multiple tiny tears, which lead to inflammation. In more severe injuries, the tendon can rupture, and a snapping noise may even be heard. The following may increase the chances of an Achilles tendon injury:
- Suddenly increasing the intensity or volume of exercise without enough rest in between
- Tight calf muscles, which put extra strain on the Achilles tendon
- Training in inappropriate or poorly-fitted footwear
How is an Achilles tendon injury diagnosed?
If you have injured your Achilles tendon you will notice pain and stiffness around the back of your heel and lower calf. It may also be swollen or feel thickened. Upon examination, your specialist will look for these signs, as well as identify the point that is most painful, to make the diagnosis. Imaging is not usually necessary, but an MRI scan might be needed to help plan treatment.
Treatment and recovery
If your Achilles tendon injury is minor, it can be treated with a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medicines, and applying ice packs to the area. The injury will usually recover fully within 4-12 weeks.
If the Achilles tendon has ruptured, surgery is the most effective way of repairing the tendon. The procedure re-joins the two torn ends of the tendon. Following surgery, a plaster cast or boot will often be used for the first few weeks, and physiotherapy should help to get you back to your normal level function within 3 months.
Achilles tendon ruptures can also be treated without surgery by using a plaster cast or boot, but recovery takes longer and there is a greater chance of the injury re-occurring. Physiotherapy will aid recovery, which should take 3-6 months.