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Have I Sustained A Ruptured Achilles Tendon?

Overview

An Achilles tendon rupture is a tear in the strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. The tendon can rupture partially or completely. Your Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body and plays a critical role. In fact, you rely on it every time you move your foot. The tendon helps you point your foot down, rise on your toes and push off as you walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is a serious injury. If you suspect you have torn your Achilles - especially if you hear a pop or snap in your heel and cannot walk properly - seek medical attention immediately.


Causes
A rupture occurs when a patient overstretches the Achilles tendon, an act which causes it to tear partially or completely. Achilles tendon ruptures can occur during athletic play or any time the tendon is stretched in an unexpected way.


Symptoms
If your Achilles tendon is ruptured you will experience severe pain in the back of your leg, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty to stand on tiptoe and push the leg when walking. A popping or snapping sound is heard when the injury occurs. You may also feel a gap or depression in the tendon, just above heel bone.


Diagnosis
Some patients mistakenly believe the tendon is working if they can push the foot down, however, patients will usually be able to move the foot up and down while sitting because the other surrounding muscles and tendons are still intact. Trying to push up while standing and applying body weight to the foot will reveal the true weakness. Sensation and circulation to the foot and ankle will be normal. In addition, x-rays will be normal unless the Achilles injury involves pulling off (avulsion) of the bone on the calcaneus (heel bone). This is quite rare, occurring in only a small fraction of patients with Achilles injuries. Patients suffering this type of Achilles avulsion injury tend to be older with weaker bone.
Imaging Studies. Plain x-rays will be negative in patients who have suffered an Achilles tendon rupture. The rupture can be seen on ultrasound or MRI. However, these studies are not indicated for acute ruptures unless there is some uncertainty about the diagnosis. For chronic problems of the Achilles or ruptures that are old, an MRI may be very helpful.


Non Surgical Treatment
The best treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon often depends on your age, activity level and the severity of your injury. In general, younger and more active people often choose surgery to repair a completely ruptured Achilles tendon while older people are more likely to opt for nonsurgical treatment. Recent studies, however, have shown fairly equal effectiveness of both operative and nonoperative management. Nonsurgical treatment. This approach typically involves wearing a cast or walking boot with wedges to elevate your heel; this allows the ends of your torn tendon to heal. This method can be effective, and it avoids the risks, such as infection, associated with surgery. However, the likelihood of re-rupture may be higher with a nonsurgical approach, and recovery can take longer. If re-rupture occurs, surgical repair may be more difficult.


Surgical Treatment
Immediate surgical repair of the tendon is indicated in complete tears. Delaying surgery can lead to shortening of the tendon, formation of scar tissue and decreased blood flow, which can lead to a poor outcome. Following surgery your ankle will be put in an immobilizing device and you will be instructed to use crutches to limit weight bearing and protect the joint. Over the next 2-4 weeks weight bearing will be increased and physical therapy will be initiated. The surgeon will determine the physical therapy timeline and program. Physical Therapy, Treatment will emphasize gradual weaning off the immobilizing device, increased weight bearing, restoration of ankle range of motion and strengthening of the lower leg muscles. It is important that the physician and therapist communicate during the early stages and progress your program based on the principles of healing so as not to compromise the Achilles tendon. Patient will be progressed to more functional activities as normal ankle range of motion and strength is restored.


Prevention
The best treatment of Achilles tendonitis is prevention. Stretching the Achilles tendon before exercise, even at the start of the day, will help to maintain ankle flexibility. Problems with foot mechanics can also lead to Achilles tendonitis. This can often be treated with devices inserted into the shoes such as heel cups, arch supports, and custom orthotics.

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