You knew something was wrong the moment it happened. You spun around on the tennis court to chase down your daughter’s lobbed ball and heard a little snap. Next thing you know, you’re down on the court clutching your ankle in pain. Unfortunately, it sounds like a classic case of an Achilles tendon rupture, and if so, you are in for a lengthy session of treatment and recovery.
Foot Faults Leading to an Achilles Injury
Your Achilles is the large tendon behind your foot that allows you to lift up your heel and point or stand on your toes. You can feel it as you pinch that ropy area behind your ankle. There are many things that can damage this tissue band, including falling some distance, stepping in a pothole, or sudden movements while playing sports. Even repetitive trauma from running or jumping often can weaken the tendon and make it more prone to injury.
Other factors include your age (it seems to happen a lot to people in their 30s), your gender (males are five times more likely to sustain this injury), and using certain medications. Having steroid injections for a painful ankle or taking fluoroquinolone antibiotics put you more at risk for injury.
Break Point: When Tendons Can’t Take the Strain
An Achilles tendon rupture usually means the tissue has torn completely in two, although it can involve just a partial tear. It happens because the heel cord is stretched too far beyond its normal range, and the fibers can’t hold together. Tight calf muscles can contribute to this injury, so one way to prevent it is to make sure your muscles are warmed up and stretched out before you participate in that weekend game of tennis.
The pain will be almost simultaneous with the rupture—a quick stabbing followed by an ache. You may or may not hear the pop when it breaks, but the back of the leg above your ankle will probably start swelling quite soon. You will most likely have difficulty walking, especially as you try to push off for a step or go up an incline or stairs.
Give It Some 15-Love
First aid is important to head off serious problems. Call our office right away to be seen, and then start RICE therapy until your appointment. This means:
Rest – Keeping weight off the foot to avoid further injury
Ice – Using a cloth covered ice pack or bag of frozen corn on the area to keep swelling down and numb the pain, 15 minutes at a time, several times a day
Compression – Wrapping an elastic bandage around the ankle snugly, but not too tight, to support it and reduce swelling
Elevation – Sit or lie with your foot propped up on pillows—above heart level when possible—to keep edema away (not letting blood and fluids collect around the injury)
Finding the Sweet Spot for Treatment
Our expert podiatrists will examine your injury and help you decide on the best course of treatment. That might mean conservative remedies like wearing a brace, walking boot, or cast to keep the tendon immobile while it heals, possible use of anti-inflammatory meds, or using laser treatment to alleviate pain and promote cell repair. For a full Achilles tendon rupture, we often recommend repairing it surgically to head off future problems. There are several methods for this, and we will discuss the procedures with you to help you make the best decision.
Ace Your Recovery
Following our instructions about weight-bearing, doing any range-of-motion or strengthening exercises we recommend, and not going back to activity too soon are all ways you can help yourself heal fully. Physical therapy will be an important part of getting your muscles and tendons back in top form to prevent reinjuring them in the future.
Call Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center at (303) 423-2520 to set up an appointment at our Wheat Ridge, Golden, Evergreen, or Granby office as soon as you realize you are injured. You can also schedule online. Quick action now can save you a lot of pain and chronic weakness later, and get you back to your favorite sport sooner.
Photo Credit: hyena reality via freedigitalphotos.net