Achilles Tendon Rupture: Treatment & Recovery Advice
The Achilles tendon is a chord of strong, fibrous tissue that connects the muscles in your calf to your heel bone. When it’s overstretched or placed under an unusual amount of strain, your Achilles tendon can partially tear or rupture completely – this is a painful injury to the back of your lower leg, which temporarily impacts your mobility.
Keep reading as we unpack the most likely causes of a ruptured Achilles tendon, as well as common symptoms, treatment and the best mobility aids to get you back on your feet.
What could cause a ruptured Achilles tendon?
A ruptured Achilles tendon is sometimes considered an athlete’s injury, as it’s most often caused by overexertion during sport or exercise – but it could happen to anyone. These are some of the most common causes of a ruptured Achilles tendon:
- Getting older, as this makes your tendons less flexible
- Obesity, which can put additional strain on your tendons
- Exercising without warming up properly first
- Doing exercise more frequently (or more strenuous) than you’re used to
- Steroid injections can weaken your tendons, and increase the risk of a rupture
- Similarly, taking certain antibiotics can also increase this risk
Symptoms & Diagnosis for a Ruptured Achilles Tendon
While it’s rare to have no symptoms of a ruptured Achilles tendon, it’s not unheard of. However, most people who’ve sustained this injury notice the following:
- A “popping” noise when the injury occurs
- Visible swelling and/or bruising near the heel of your foot
- Moderate to severe pain in the back of your calf
- You’re unable to point your toes, or stand on your tiptoes
- You struggle to put your weight on the injured leg
How is a ruptured Achilles tendon diagnosed?
If you think you’ve ruptured your Achilles tendon, you should go to hospital or seek an emergency appointment with your GP, so it doesn’t begin to heal incorrectly.
The doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and explain how the injury took place; they might also ask you to walk around, so they can assess your range of movement. They’ll examine the injured leg to check for bruising or swelling, which will usually lead to a diagnosis, but if they’re uncertain, you might be sent for an ultrasound or an MRI.
Ruptured Achilles Tendon Treatment
Once you’ve been diagnosed, you’ll be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon for further consultation – this is a surgeon who specialises in bones, joints and the musculoskeletal system. The recommended treatment for your injury will vary in line with your age, how active you are, and the severity of your injury, so recovery doesn’t look the same for everyone.
That said, the courses of treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon can be broken down into two categories: surgical and non-surgical.
If you’re a little older, or have any other health factors to consider, your doctor may recommend a non-surgical form of treatment. This conservative treatment plan will usually involve wearing a cast or walking boot on your injured leg for several weeks, which provides support during the healing process. You might also be instructed to ice the area, rest your tendon by using crutches, and take non-prescription painkillers for any discomfort.
For younger patients, patients who are especially active, or those who have ruptured their Achilles tendon before, a surgical repair may be the better option. There are a few different surgeries for repairing an Achilles tendon, including open surgery, or keyhole surgery, which is less invasive.
These procedures generally entail an incision in your ankle or lower leg, so that the surgeon can stitch the torn ends of your tendon back together. Depending on the location of the tear, your other tendons might also be used to reinforce the repair. After the surgery, you’ll be fitted with a cast or an adjustable walking boot to stabilise the area while it heals.
Rehabilitation for a Ruptured Achilles Tendon
Whether you have surgical or non-surgical treatment, the period of rehabilitation afterwards is a similar length. You’ll have regular appointments with a physiotherapist, who will track your progress and prescribe different exercises to strengthen your tendon and leg muscles.
After four to six months, you should be able to take part in low-impact sports like cycling, swimming, or using a cross-trainer. Exercise like this will also help to build up your muscle again, so you can regain your previous level of activity.
How to Prevent an Achilles Tendon Rupture
While rupturing an Achilles tendon is sometimes unpreventable, there are some measures you can take to try and limit the risk. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
- Don’t run before you can walk. If you’re training, increase the intensity and duration of your exercises gradually, rather than pushing too hard.
- Mix up your exercises. Rather than consistently sticking to high-impact sports like running, include workouts like hiking and swimming to give your tendons a break.
- Warm up and down properly. Do some gentle calf stretches before you work out, until you feel a slight pulling – this will increase the flexibility of your tendons.
- Wear supportive shoes. Don’t train when you’re not wearing suitable footwear, and try to avoid running on unforgiving, slippery surfaces.
Best Mobility Aids for a Ruptured Achilles Tendon
A ruptured Achilles tendon will likely limit your ability to walk for some time, but there are plenty of mobility aids to help you get up and about after your injury, or while you recover from surgery.
Often prescribed by the NHS for Achilles tendon injuries, traditional crutches are both affordable and easy to get your hands on. These standard-issue crutches tend to come as a pair, with adjustable hand grips to make them more comfortable. While you might need two crutches at first, you may be able to switch to using one crutch, as soon as you feel comfortable putting a little weight on your injured leg.
A knee scooter (or knee walker) is a mobility aid on four wheels, with a raised, padded platform to place your knee on, and a pair of handlebars to help with stability. You can then push yourself along with your good leg, at a reasonable walking speed. While knee scooters can be both comfortable and efficient, they can be bulky to store, so they’re not ideal for users who are short on space.
iWALK hands-free knee crutch
Unlike many conventional mobility aids, the iWALK knee crutch is completely hands free, giving you the freedom to carry out all your day-to-day tasks, unimpaired. You don’t carry the iWALK 3.0 like a traditional crutch; instead, it’s strapped directly to your injured leg, so your foot, ankle and calf are fully supported on a raised platform behind you. Once you’re properly strapped in, you walk on the crutch directly by putting your weight on your knee.
This mobility aid has a lot of patient benefits to offer, from the convenience of having full use of your hands, right through to a quicker recovery time. Using your injured leg – even in this limited capacity – can prevent muscle wastage and improve blood flow, which in turn encourages the healing process. You also won’t struggle with the secondary injuries that can occur with traditional crutches, such as hand blisters or carpal tunnel.
With the iWALK hands-free knee crutch, a ruptured Achilles tendon needn’t derail your everyday life – you’ll get your mobility back, and your independence too. Get in touch today and find out more about the iWALK 3.0.