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An Achilles tendon tear—sometimes called a rupture—can be partial or complete. Partial tears may cause no symptoms. But complete tears cause pain and sudden loss of strength and movement. Middle-aged adults doing sports activities are more likely to get this kind of injury. Tears also happen in older adults.
An Achilles tendon tear is most often caused by a sudden, forceful motion that stresses the calf muscle. This can happen during an intense sports activity or even when you just run or jump. Middle-aged adults are more likely to get this kind of injury.
Symptoms of an Achilles tendon tear may include a sudden, sharp pain. Most people feel or hear a pop. You may have swelling and bruising. You may not be able to point your foot down or stand on your toes. Some people with partial tears may not have any symptoms.
Most doctors diagnose an Achilles tendon problem by asking questions about your past health and checking the back of your leg for pain and swelling. If your symptoms are severe or don't improve with treatment, your doctor may want you to get an X-ray, an ultrasound, or an MRI.
Managing this type of injury without surgery, called conservative management, is most often the care for a partially torn Achilles tendon. A cast, splint, brace, walking boot, or other device may be used. Surgery may be used to treat a completely torn Achilles tendon. A rehab or physiotherapy program follows both of these treatments.
A tear most often occurs in sports such as basketball, racquet sports (like tennis), soccer, and softball (this is more common in middle-aged adults). You may overstretch your tendon and cause a tear during any activity when the tendon is already damaged. Or it can be caused by other health conditions.
Things that increase your risk for an Achilles tendon tear include:
Overuse and repeated movements can weaken the tendon. Playing sports and doing activities at work and at home can raise your risk.
Most Achilles tears occur in people older than 30.
People who are very heavy have a greater risk.
Men are more likely than women to have an Achilles tendon injury.
Wearing shoes that don't support your feet or cushion your heel can increase your risk.
Symptoms of an Achilles tendon tear may include:
If you have only a partial tear of the Achilles tendon, you may have near-normal strength after the injury. Some people with partial tears may not have any symptoms.
An Achilles tendon can partially or completely tear. A tear usually occurs in the lower part of the tendon. Some doctors believe that this area is most likely to tear because of a limited blood supply.
If you don't treat a badly torn Achilles tendon, your tendon may heal with time. But your leg may not be as strong as if the tear had been treated.
Call your doctor now if you think you have an Achilles tendon problem (at or above the back of your ankle) and:
If you had an Achilles tendon injury in the past and you have reinjured your Achilles tendon, call your doctor to find out what you need to do. Rest your lower leg and foot until treatment begins.
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. It's not a good choice if you have severe pain in the Achilles tendon area. Early treatment works best.
If you think you have an Achilles tendon problem and you have mild symptoms, rest your lower leg and foot for a couple of days. If you have weakness, cramping, or constant pain in your Achilles tendon, call your doctor.
To diagnose Achilles tendon problems, such as a tear, most doctors ask questions about your past health and do a physical examination. The examination includes checking for tenderness, watching how you walk and stand, and comparing the range of motion of your two legs.
Other tests may be done to clarify a diagnosis or to prepare for surgery. These tests include:
Treatment for an Achilles tendon tear includes:
A rehab program or physiotherapy follows both of these treatments. Treatment takes time, but it usually works. Most people can return to sports and other activities.
If you are healing from an Achilles tendon tear, don't smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking slows healing. This is because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
Home treatment is often used as part of rehabilitation (rehab) after an Achilles tendon tear. Here are some things you can do to help you rest, heal, and strengthen your Achilles tendon. These can also help prevent further injury.
Avoid all activities that strain the tendon. This includes climbing stairs and running. Try other things, such as swimming, while you give your tendon the days, weeks, or months it needs to heal. Your doctor will tell you what you can and can't do.
Do gentle stretching and strengthening exercises. Focus on calf stretches.
Smoking slows healing. It decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.
Your doctor may suggest this if your Achilles tendon shortens and stiffens while you sleep. The brace keeps your foot in a neutral position.
Surgery is often used to reattach the ends of a completely torn Achilles tendon.
Surgery works best when you have surgery soon after your injury. Recovery may take months. Most surgeons will wait a few days for swelling to go down. Then they'll do the surgery as soon as they can. It's usually done within 4 to 6 weeks. You'll also need a rehabilitation (rehab) program to help heal and strengthen the tendon.
Surgery for an Achilles tendon tear can be done with a single large cut (incision). This is called open surgery. Or it can be done with several small cuts. This is called percutaneous surgery. As with any surgery, it is important to consider the risk of infection.
Rehabilitation (rehab) is part of the usual treatment for an Achilles tendon injury.
Your doctor or physiotherapist will design a program for you. You will likely need rehab after an Achilles tendon injury whether or not you have surgery.
Rehab may include:
Adaptation Date: 10/6/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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