The Achilles tendon is an important connection between the calf and the heel and once of the strongest in the body. If it ruptures, it can be catastrophic…especially for athletes. On March 14, soccer player David Beckham tore his left Achilles tendon during a match against Chievo Verona. The Achilles tendon has an important function to allow you to stand on your toes, a motion that is called plantarflexion.
A rupture or tear of the Achilles tendon limits mobility as you are not able to push off your toes. This limits and restricts your ability to walk and run. At the site of rupture you will see signs of swelling, tenderness and bruising along where the tendon tore. Injuries to the Achilles are usually caused by sudden force or a weakening of the tendon that gives due to a regular force. Many describe a feeling of being kicked in the back of the leg when the tendon ruptures.
Certain individuals are susceptible to Achilles tendon tears, especially people who wear shoes that plantarflex their toes such as women wearing high heels. This constant position of plantarflexion of the foot causes the Achilles tendon to shorten, causing the tendon to become tighter. When the individual stands in a more neutral position, forces will cause the tendon to either stretch or tear.
In order to prevent the shortening of the Achilles tendon, it is advised to wear proper shoes. It is also very important to stretch after a run or a workout. Running causes contracture of the tendon and can cause it to tighten. Stretching will help to restore the length of the tendon and allow for an easier muscle recovery.
Most Achilles tendon ruptures are partial tears. In fact, many are often confused with Achilles tendinitis, an inflammation of the tendon. My rule of thumb in my Houston podiatry practice is, if a patient does not respond to a short course of anti-inflammatory medication, I send them for an MRI to rule out a rupture. Treating a partial tear aggressively often leads to a quick and uneventful recovery. Ignoring it, however, can lead it to further weaken and become a complete rupture.
Recovering from a complete Achilles tendon tear is very long and frustrating. Surgery to reattach the tendon is often necessary. This is followed up by immobilization and physical therapy. In the case of David Beckham, he had surgery the following day to repair his Achilles tendon and is expected to make a recovery within the next 5-8 months and is expected to return to the field sometime in September of this year.
If you have felt pain in your Achilles tendon, even just a small twinge, it is imperative that you get it checked sooner than later. Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider will evaluate your injury and offer you the best recommendation to getting to feeling better.