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Achilles Tendon Rupture Recovery Timeline

Overview

The Achilles tendon runs from the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg and inserts at the back of the heel. A torn achilles can be a partial rupture or a total rupture. A total rupture is more common in men affecting them 10 times more than women. Injury typically occurs 30 to 40 minutes into a period of exercise rather than at the start of a session and nearly always happens from a sudden explosive movement or bending the foot upwards. Many patients are able to continue to function following an achilles rupture due to other muscles compensating although the injured leg will be significantly weaker. There are four key tests which can help diagnose a ruptured achilles tendon.


Causes
Common causes of an Achilles tendon rupture include the progression of or the final result of longstanding Achilles tendonitis or an overuse injury. An injury to the ankle or a direct blow to the Achilles tendon. As a result of a fall where an individual lands awkwardly or directly on the ankle. Laceration of the tendon. Weakness of the gastrocnemius or soleus muscles in people with existing Achilles tendonitis places increased stress on the tendon. Steroid use has been linked to tendon weakness. Certain systemic diseases have been associated with tendon weakness. A sudden deceleration or stopping motions that cause an acute traumatic injury of the ankle. Injection of steroids to the involved tendon or the excessive use of steroids has been known to weaken tendons and make them susceptible to rupture. Contraction of the calf muscles while the foot is dorsiflexed (pointed toward the head) and the lower leg is moving forward.


Symptoms
An Achilles tendon rupture is when the tendon that connects the heel bone to the calf muscle tears and the fibers separate. This happens mostly between the ages of 30 and 50, and usually is caused by sports. Symptoms of Achilles tendon rupture include the following. A pop or snap when the tendon tears. Severe pain in back of the ankle, making it nearly impossible to walk. Swelling and discoloration. Tenderness. Inability to rise on toes. A gap in the back of the ankle where the tendons are separated.


Diagnosis
Your doctor diagnoses the rupture based on symptoms, history of the injury and physical examination. Your doctor will gently squeeze the calf muscles, if the Achilles tendon is intact, there will be flexion movement of the foot, if it is ruptured, there will be no movement observed.


Non Surgical Treatment
Pain medicines can help decrease pain and swelling. A cast may be needed for 2 months or more. Your foot will be positioned in the cast with your toes pointing slightly down. Your caregiver will change your cast and your foot position several times while the tendon heals. Do not move or put weight on your foot until your caregiver tells you it is okay. A leg brace or splint may be needed to help keep your foot from moving while your tendon heals. Heel lifts are wedges put into your shoe or cast. Heel lifts help decrease pressure and keep your foot in the best position for your tendon to heal. Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. The edges of your tendon may need to be stitched back together. You may need a graft to patch the tear. A graft is a piece of another tendon or artificial material.


Surgical Treatment
The surgical repair of an acute or chronic rupture of the Achilles tendon typically occurs in an outpatient setting. This means the patient has surgery and goes home the same day. Numbing medicine is often placed into the leg around the nerves to help decrease pain after surgery. This is called a nerve block. Patients are then put to sleep and placed in a position that allows the surgeon access to the ruptured tendon. Repair of an acute rupture often takes somewhere between 30 minutes and one hour. Repair of a chronic rupture can take longer depending on the steps needed to fix the tendon.


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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