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What Are The Causes And Signs And Symptoms Of A Ruptured Achilles Tendon?

Overview

The Achilles tendon is situated above the heel and forms the lower part of the calf muscles. It is a continuation of the two calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, and it attaches to the heel bone. It is the strongest tendon in the human body and must withstand great forces. Its function is to transmit the force produced by the calf muscles to lift the heel and produce the push off during walking, running and jumping. The Achilles can produce force of up to seven times body weight. This shows just how much force it has to withstand during sporting activities, such as sprinting, jumping and turning.


Causes
The Achilles tendon can grow weak and thin with age and lack of use. Then it becomes prone to injury or rupture. Achilles tendon rupture is more common in those with preexisting tendinitis of the Achilles tendon. Certain illnesses (such as arthritis and diabetes) and medications (such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics, including quinolones such as levofloxacin [Levaquin] and ciprofloxacin [Cipro]) can also increase the risk of rupture. Rupture most commonly occurs in the middle-aged male athlete (the weekend warrior who is engaging in a pickup game of basketball, for example). Injury often occurs during recreational sports that require bursts of jumping, pivoting, and running. Most often these are tennis, racquetball, basketball, and badminton. The injury can happen in the following situations. You make a forceful push-off with your foot while your knee is straightened by the powerful thigh muscles. One example might be starting a foot race or jumping. You suddenly trip or stumble, and your foot is thrust in front to break a fall, forcefully overstretching the tendon. You fall from a significant height or abruptly step into a hole or off of a curb.


Symptoms
It is important to know that pain at the back of the heel is not always due to Achilles tendon rupture. It may be due to bursitis (fluid accumulation in the heel due to repeated irritation) and tendonitis (pain along the Achilles tendon due to constant friction and irritation). The above disorders tend to improve with use of pain medications and rest, whereas Achilles tendon rupture requires surgery and/or a cast.


Diagnosis
Laboratory studies usually are not necessary in evaluating and diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture or injury, although evaluation may help to rule out some of the other possibilities in the differential diagnosis. Plain radiography. Radiographs are more useful for ruling out other injuries than for ruling in Achilles tendon ruptures. Ultrasonography of the leg and thigh can help to evaluate the possibility of deep venous thrombosis and also can be used to rule out a Baker cyst, in experienced hands, ultrasonography can identify a ruptured Achilles tendon or the signs of tendinosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI can facilitate definitive diagnosis of a disrupted tendon and can be used to distinguish between paratenonitis, tendinosis, and bursitis.


Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment typically involves wearing a brace or cast for the first six weeks following the injury to allow time for the ends of the torn tendon to reattach on their own. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may be taken during this time to reduce pain and swelling. Once the tendon has reattached, physical therapy will be needed to strengthen the muscles and tendon. A full recovery is usually made within four to six months.


Surgical Treatment
There are two types of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. In open surgery, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the back of the leg. In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions rather than one large incision. In both types of surgery, the surgeon sews the tendon back together through the incision(s). Surgery may be delayed for about a week after the rupture, to let the swelling go down.

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