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Dealing With Achilles Tendon Ruptures

Overview

Complete Achilles tendon ruptures occur most commonly at the mid-substance, but also distally at the insertion site or proximally at the myotendinous junction. These can be traumatic and devastating injuries, resulting in significant pain, disability, and healthcare cost. As many as 2.5 million individuals sustain Achilles tendon ruptures each year and the incidence is rising. This trend is due, in part, to an increase in athletic participation across individuals of all ages.


Causes
Often the individual will feel or hear a pop or a snap when the injury occurs. There is immediate swelling and severe pain in the back of the heel, below the calf where it ruptures. Pain is usually severe enough that it is difficult or impossible to walk or take a step. The individual will not be able to push off or go on their toes.


Symptoms
Patients with an Achilles tendon rupture will often complain of a sudden snap in the back of the leg. The pain is often intense. With a complete rupture, the individual will only be ambulate with a limp. Most people will not be able to climb stairs, run, or stand on their toes. Swelling around the calf may occur. Patients may often have had a sudden increase in exercise or intensity of activity. Some patients may have had recent corticosteroid injections or use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Some athletes may have had a prior injury to the tendon.


Diagnosis
In order to diagnose Achilles tendon rupture a doctor or physiotherapist will give a full examination of the area and sometimes an X ray is performed in order to confirm the diagnosis. A doctor may also recommend an MRI or CT scan is used to rule out any further injury or complications.


Non Surgical Treatment
Not every torn Achilles tendon needs an operation. Recent studies have shown that even a conservative treatment, i.e. immobilizingt the leg can lead to satisfactory healing successes. This requires, however, that the patient is fitted with a cast (immobilization splint) and/or a special boot for a period of approximately 6 - 8 weeks. After that, the boot must be worn during the day for about two more weeks. An intensive physiotherapy will start after about six weeks to train the calf muscles so that the initial coordination can be restored. Running training on flat ground can be started again after another 10 - 12 weeks. Studies show that the danger of a recurring torn tendon is higher after a conservative treatment opposed to an operative treatment. Depending on the type of treatment, about 10 - 15 percent of those affected can expect at some point to again suffer from a tear of the Achilles tendon. Moreover, in the non-operated cases, we see more often a significant permanent weakness of the footprint, particularly restricting the ability to participate in sports.


Surgical Treatment
Debate remains regarding the best form of treatment for a ruptured Achilles tendon. The 2 options are:immobilisation or operation. A recent meta-analysis of scientific studies showed that compared to immobilisation, an operation reduces the risk of re-rupture and allows a quicker return to work. An operation is not without risk and these must be balanced against the benefit of a lower re-rupture rate. Both treatments involve immobilisation for 8 weeks.

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