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Coping With Achilles Tendon Ruptures

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
There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of an Achilles tendon rupture, which include the following. You?re most likely to rupture your Achilles tendon during sports that involve bursts of jumping, pivoting and running, such as football or tennis. Your Achilles tendon becomes less flexible and less able to absorb repeated stresses, for example of running, as you get older. Small tears can develop in the fibres of the tendon and it may eventually completely tear. There is a very small risk of an Achilles tendon rupture if you have Achilles tendinopathy (also called Achilles tendinitis). This is where your tendon breaks down, which causes pain and stiffness in your Achilles tendon, both when you exercise and afterwards. If you take quinolone antibiotics and corticosteroid medicines, it can increase your risk of an Achilles tendon injury, particularly if you take them together. The exact reasons for this aren’t fully understood at present.


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
Most Achilles tendon ruptures occur in people between 30 and 50 years old and such injuries are often sport-related. If you suspect an Achilles injury, it is best to apply ice, elevate the leg, and see a specialist. One of the first things the doctor will do is evaluate your leg and ankle for swelling and discoloration. You may feel tenderness and the doctor may detect a gap where the ends of the tendon are separated. In addition to X-rays, the calf squeeze, or Thompson test, will be performed to confirm an Achilles tendon rupture. With your knee bent, the doctor will squeeze the muscles of your calf and if your tendon is intact the foot and ankle will automatically flex downward. In the case of a ruptured Achilles there will be no movement in the foot and ankle during the test.


Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment of Achilles tendon rupture is usually reserved for patients who are relatively sedentary or may be at higher risk for complications with surgical intervention (due to other associated medical problems). This involves a period of immobilization, followed by range of motion and strengthening exercises; unfortunately, it is associated with a higher risk of re-rupture of the tendon, and possibly a less optimal functional outcome.


Surgical Treatment
In general, Achilles tendon repair surgery has a much higher success rate and lower incidences of re-rupture than non-surgical methods of treatment. It is preferred by the nation?s leading athletes as the best course of action, allowing them to return to previous activity and performance levels at a much faster rate, with a lower chance or re-injury and less potential muscle loss.


Prevention
The following can significantly reduce the risk of Achilles tendon rupture. Adequate stretching and warming up prior to exercising. If playing a seasonal sport, undertake preparatory exercises to build strength and endurance before the sporting season commences. Maintain a healthy body weight. This will reduce the load on the tendon and muscles. Use footwear appropriate for the sport or exercise being undertaken. Exercise within fitness limits and follow a sensible exercise programme. Increase exercise gradually and avoid unfamiliar strenuous exercise. Gradual ?warm down? after exercising.

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