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Have I Sustained A Ruptured Achilles Tendon?

Overview

The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscles in the leg to the heel bone. It is the largest yet most exposed tendon in the body. An Achilles tendon rupture injury is when the tendon fibres tear, causing symptoms of pain and loss of function. A rupture can be either partial or complete and treatment may involve surgery. Achilles tendon rupture is most common in weekend athletes trying to train too hard and is least common in well-trained professional athletes. The injury is more common in men than in women and the frequency of rupture increases over the age of 30 years.


Causes
The Achilles tendon is most commonly injured by sudden plantarflexion or dorsiflexion of the ankle, or by forced dorsiflexion of the ankle outside its normal range of motion. Other mechanisms by which the Achilles can be torn involve sudden direct trauma to the tendon, or sudden activation of the Achilles after atrophy from prolonged periods of inactivity. Some other common tears can occur from overuse while participating in intense sports. Twisting or jerking motions can also contribute to injury. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, famously ciprofloxacin, are known to increase the risk of tendon rupture, particularly achilles.


Symptoms
The pain from an Achilles tendon rupture is usually felt in the back of the lower leg, in the area 2 to 6 cm. above the Achilles tendon’s attachment to the calcaneus. Individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture often describe a “pop” or similar feeling at the time of the injury. A “hole” or defect in the Achilles tendon can usually be felt under the skin in this area. A limp and inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot are usually present. If the affected foot does not plantar flex when the calf muscles are squeezed an Achilles tendon rupture is very likely.


Diagnosis
Diagnosis is made mostly by clinical examination with a defect usually noted on visual examination and by touching the area. A simple test can be done by squeezing the back of the calf with the foot resting in the air. Normally when squeezing the muscle belly the tendon will shorten causing the foot to move in a downward position. With a rupture this squeezing effect may show no movement of the foot if it is not attached properly. A negative test does not mean there isn’t some degree of rupture as some of the tendon fibers may still be attached. Sometimes x-rays, an mri, or an ultrasound can be helpful in determining the extent of the rupture.


Non Surgical Treatment
Initial treatment for sprains and strains should occur as soon as possible. Remember RICE! Rest the injured part. Pain is the body’s signal to not move an injury. Ice the injury. This will limit the swelling and help with the spasm. Compress the injured area. This again, limits the swelling. Be careful not to apply a wrap so tightly that it might act as a tourniquet and cut off the blood supply. Elevate the injured part. This lets gravity help reduce the swelling by allowing fluid and blood to drain downhill to the heart. Over-the-counter pain medication is an option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is helpful for pain, but ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) might be better, because these medications relieve both pain and inflammation. Remember to follow the guidelines on the bottle for appropriate amounts of medicine, especially for children and teens.


Surgical Treatment
The best treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon in an active individual is typically surgery. While an Achilles rupture can sometimes be treated with a cast, splint, brace, or other device that will keep your lower leg from moving, surgery provides less chance that the tendon will rupture again and offers more strength and a shorter recovery period. Surgery may be delayed for a period of a week after the rupture, to let the swelling go down. There are two types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon and both involve the surgeon sewing the tendon back together through the incision. Open surgery, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the back of the leg. Percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes a number of small incisions rather than one large incision. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue, the repair may be reinforced with other tendons.

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