“Tendon rupture”, the words send a chill down every athlete’s spine. Even if you have never experienced anything like a ruptured tendon, just the thought of it is enough to make people stop and change the way they take care of their feet. Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel. These muscles are necessary for proper movement of the foot and leg and are paramount to the most basic of movements such as walking, running, and jumping.
It should be unsurprising then when I tell you that athletes who perform these actions with great or sudden force are the most likely to experience this kind of rupture. Sprinters pushing off for a sprint, tennis players suddenly changing direction to go after a ball, gymnasts flying off a springboard onto a vault, all of these actions involve direct and suddenforce on the Achilles tendon, which can cause a sudden rupture.
So how do you know if you have ruptured your Achilles tendon? The first and most common sign is a loud popping sound heard from the back of the heel at the time of injury. This is followed by pain and weakness. Mobility of the foot and leg will be immediately limited and tenderness, swelling, and redness will appear at the site of injury. In other words, you will definitely know if you have fully ruptured your Achilles tendon. Sometimes however, with a partial rupture, the pain is manageable, mobility and strength in the foot are only partially restricted, and some swelling or bruising may appear later.
Your podiatrist can determine if and how badly you have ruptured your tendon with an examination and testing. Many ruptures can be treated with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Anti-inflammatory medicines can help reduce swelling as well. Your doctor may also issue you a heel lift, to reduce strain on the tendon as it is healing. For severe ruptures, casts and/or surgery may be necessary.
Some simple things you can do to avoid a rupture include increasing physical activity gradually, wearing supportive and well-fitting shoes, reducing uphill running, and resting from activity if you feel tightness or strain in the back of your calf. Many people who rupture their Achilles tendon also suffered previously from tendonitis, so if you doctor has diagnosed you with or told you that you are at risk for tendonitis, keep a close eye on how your legs and feet feel during and after exercise.
We at the FAAWC are all about keeping you in the game and performing at your top level. If you experience any persistent pain in your foot or calf, don’t hesitate to make an appointment. A little prevention could save you months of recovery.