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Achilles Rupture The Facts

Overview

The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body; connecting the calf muscles to the heel. An Achilles tendon rupture prevents the tendon from performing its function of pulling the foot and ankle downward during walking, running and jumping. Most ruptures occur about four to six inches above the heel, but the tendon can also tear where it meets the heel bone.


Causes
Factors that may increase your risk of Achilles tendon rupture include Age. The peak age for Achilles tendon rupture is 30 to 40. Your sex. Achilles tendon rupture is up to five times more likely to occur in men than in women. Playing recreational sports. Achilles tendon injuries occur more often in sports that involve running, jumping and sudden starts and stops - such as soccer, basketball and tennis. Steroid injections. Doctors sometimes inject steroids into an ankle joint to reduce pain and inflammation. However, this medication can weaken nearby tendons and has been associated with Achilles tendon ruptures. Certain antibiotics. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or levofloxacin (Levaquin), increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture.


Symptoms
You may notice the symptoms come on suddenly during a sporting activity or injury. You might hear a snap or feel a sudden sharp pain when the tendon is torn. The sharp pain usually settles quickly, although there may be some aching at the back of the lower leg. After the injury, the usual symptoms are as follows. A flat-footed type of walk. You can walk and bear weight, but cannot push off the ground properly on the side where the tendon is ruptured. Inability to stand on tiptoe. If the tendon is completely torn, you may feel a gap just above the back of the heel. However, if there is bruising then the swelling may disguise the gap. If you suspect an Achilles tendon rupture, it is best to see a doctor urgently, because the tendon heals better if treated sooner rather than later.


Diagnosis
A consultation and physical exam with a qualified musculoskeletal expert is the first step. X-ray or MRI scanning may be required for a diagnosis. Once a rupture is diagnosed it should be treated to prevent loss of strength and inadequate healing.


Non Surgical Treatment
Medical therapy for a patient with an Achilles tendon rupture consists of rest, pain control, serial casting, and rehabilitation to maximize function. Ongoing debate surrounds the issue of whether medical or surgical therapy is more appropriate for this injury. Conservative management of Achilles tendinosis and paratenonitis includes the following. Physical therapy. Eccentric exercises are the cornerstone of strengthening treatment, with most patients achieving 60-90% pain relief. Orthotic therapy in Achilles tendinosis consists of the use of heel lifts. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Tendinosis tends to be less responsive than paratenonitis to NSAIDs. Steroid injections. Although these provide short-term relief of painful symptoms, there is concern that they can weaken the tendon, leading to rupture. Vessel sclerosis. Platelet-rich plasma injections. Nitric oxide. Shock-wave therapy.


Surgical Treatment
Surgical correction of the ruptured tendon is almost always necessary. Surgery is performed in order to regain the maximum strength of the Achilles, as well as the normal pushing off strength of the foot. The strength of the muscle depends on the correct tension between the muscle and the tendon. The only way the correct tension on the tendon can set is by accurately repairing the tendon ends. When the tendon ruptures, the ends of the tendon separate and multiple little strands of the tendon are present like pieces of spaghetti. There are old fashioned techniques for repairing the tendon which require very long incisions (eight inches) on the back of the leg. These are complicated and associated with a high incidence of infection in the skin after surgery. This is an important consideration, since infection in the skin can lead to devastating problems with the skin and tendon. This problem of skin infection has, in the past, led surgeons away from surgical methods of treatment. Fortunately, now there is a new, unique method available for operating on and repairing the tendon. This new method requires only a tiny incision of one to two centimeters in length. This is far more accurate surgery. Recovery after this procedure is easier and the surgical complication rate is extremely low.


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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