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What Are The Causes And Warning Signs Of Achilles Tendon Rupture

Overview

The largest tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon is a cord connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. Also called the ?cord of Achilles,? the tendon gets its name from the hero of Greek myth. According to legend, Achilles was invulnerable everywhere but his heel, where a poisoned arrow eventually felled him. Because the blood supply to the Achilles tendon lessens with age, the tendon becomes vulnerable to inflammation and rupture, a fact which makes it a true ?Achilles heel? for many older patients. Achilles tendon injuries are also common among athletes and those who engage in more physically demanding activity.


Causes
The most common cause of a ruptured Achilles’ tendon is when too much stress is placed through the tendon, particularly when pushing off with the foot. This may happen when playing sports such as football, basketball or tennis where the foot is dorsiflexed or pushed into an upward position during a fall. If the Achilles’ tendon is weak, it is prone to rupture. Various factors can cause weakness, including corticosteroid medication and injections, certain diseases caused by hormone imbalance and tendonitis. Old age can also increase the risk of Achilles’ tendon rupture.


Symptoms
It happens suddenly, often without warning. There is often a popping sound when the tendon ruptures. The patient usually feel as if someone has kicked their heel from the rear, only to turn around to find nobody there. There is acute pain and swelling in the back of the heel due to bleeding from the tendon rupture. The patient will have difficulty walking as they cannot toe off without pain. This causes them to walk with a limp.


Diagnosis
A diagnosis can be made clinically, but an MRI or ultrasound scan can confirm it. On examination, the patient will present with reduced plantarflexion strength, a positive Thompson test and potentially, a palpable gap in the Achilles. The whole length of the tendon should be examined to check for injuries that can occur at the insertion and the musculotendinous junction.


Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical management traditionally was selected for minor ruptures, less active patients, and those with medical conditions that prevent them from undergoing surgery. It traditionally consisted of restriction in a plaster cast for six to eight weeks with the foot pointed downwards (to oppose the ends of the ruptured tendon). But recent studies have produced superior results with much more rapid rehabilitation in fixed or hinged boots.


Surgical Treatment
The goal of surgery is to realign the two ends of the ruptured tendon to allow healing. There are multiple techniques to accomplish this goal that will vary from surgeon to surgeon. Recovery from this injury is usually very successful with return to full function in approximately 6 months. Post operatively casting is required with the use of crutches or other means to remain non-weightbearing for 4-8 weeks. This is followed by a course of physical therapy. Partial rupture may or may not require surgical intervention depending on the extent of injury but cast immobilization is a common requirement.


Prevention
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or rupture, the following tips are recommended. Avoid activities that place an enormous stress on the heel (for example, uphill running or excessive jumping). Stop all activity if there is pain at the back of the heel. If pain resumes with one particular exercise, another exercise should be selected. Wear proper shoes. Gradually strengthen calf muscles with sit-ups if prior episodes of Achilles tendonitis have occurred. Always warm up with stretching exercises before any activity. Avoid high-impact sports if prior episodes of Achilles tendon injury.

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