The Achilles tendon is a strong fibrous cord that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, it is the longest and strongest tendon in the human body.

The Achilles tendon helps to facilitate walking by raising the heel off the ground

When your Achilles tendon snaps it is known as Achilles tendon rupture. 

It mainly occurs in people playing recreational sports, but it can happen to anyone.

If your Achilles tendon ruptures, you may hear a ‘pop’ sound and feel an immediate sharp pain in the back of your heel and lower leg which is likely to affect your ability to walk. 

Surgery is often performed to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, however, for many people a conservative (non-surgical) approach to treatment is sufficient.

What Is an Achilles Tendon Rupture and What Causes It?

An Achilles tendon rupture is a complete tear that occurs when the Achilles tendon is stretched beyond its capability.

The Achilles tendon is the most commonly ruptured tendon in the human body.

Achilles tendon ruptures often occur with a sudden forceful movement of the foot against resistance, such as when you push off with great force to jump.

Forceful jumping, pivoting, or sudden acceleration with running can overstretch the tendon and cause a rupture.

These injuries often occur in sports including basketball, tennis, football, soccer, netball, baseball, softball, badminton, etc. 

An injury to the tendon can also result from tripping or falling, when the foot steps forcefully in front to break a fall.

Less commonly, medications such as steroids, may weaken the tendon and contribute to ruptures.

Another risk factor for Achilles tendon rupture is poorly managed tendinopathy.

Signs and Symptoms of an Achilles Tendon Rupture

  • Sudden pain (which feels like a kick or a stab) in the back of the heel or calf
  • A popping or snapping sound when the injury occurs
  • Swelling at the back of the leg and the heel
  • Difficulty with walking to ‘push off’ the injured leg
  • Difficulty rising up on the toes of the injured leg
  • Difficulty with bending the foot, pointing the toes downwards

How Is An Achilles Rupture Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is usually quite straightforward.

Your local physiotherapist or doctor will ask questions about the injury and examine the lower leg, foot and ankle. 

The area will be examined for swelling, bruising and tenderness and if there is a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon, a defect or gap in the tendon may be palpated. 

Your range of motion will be observed and a number of tests carried out to help confirm the diagnosis.

In some cases, an MRI or other imaging test may be used to diagnose an Achilles tendon rupture.


What Is The Treatment Of Achilles Rupture

Treatment for Achilles tendon ruptures may involve a surgical or a conservative (non-surgical) approach.

The decision of whether to follow a surgical or nonsurgical treatment is based on the severity of the rupture and the individual’s health and activity level.

Whether an Achilles tendon rupture is treated surgically or conservatively, physiotherapy is an important component of the rehabilitation process.

Physiotherapy will involve exercises to  strengthen muscles, improve range of motion in the foot and ankle and return you to activity and sport.

Surgical:

Different surgical techniques are available to repair Achilles tendon ruptures. A surgeon will select the procedure best suited to the individual.

Following surgery, depending on the surgeons protocol, a cast or walking boot will be worn.

Non-surgical:

Conservative treatment may be appropriate for some individuals and may be used in cases with minor ruptures, less active individuals, older individuals, or those with higher risk for undergoing surgery. 

Conservative treatment may involve the use of a cast, walking boot or brace to restrict movement and allow the torn tendon to heal.

Prevention

To reduce your chance of Achilles tendon issues and prevent injury:

  • Stretch calf muscles to increase flexibility
  • Strengthen calf muscles
  • Wear appropriate footwear
  • Increase training intensity slowly – Achilles tendon injuries commonly occur after an abrupt increase in training intensity or frequency 
  • If calf or heel pain occurs, consider stopping your activity and if rest does not help/ the pain reoccurs, seek medical advice