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Achilles tendon rupture - aftercare

Alternate Names

Heel cord tear; Calcaneal tendon rupture

What Is an Achilles Tendon Rupture?

The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. Together, they help you push your heel off the ground and go up on your toes. You use these muscles and your Achilles tendon when you walk, run, and jump.

If your Achilles tendon stretches too far, it can tear or rupture. If this happens, you may:

  • Hear a snapping, cracking, or popping sound and feel a sharp pain in the back of your leg or ankle
  • Have trouble moving your foot to walk or go up stairs
  • Have difficulty standing on your toes
  • Have bruising or swelling in your leg or foot

About Your Injury

Most likely your injury occurred when you:

  • Suddenly pushed your foot off the ground (to go from walking to running, or to running uphill
  • Tripped and fell or had another accident
  • Played a sport like tennis or basketball, with a lot of stopping and starting

You will likely need an MRI scan to see what type of Achilles tendon tear you have. An MRI is a type of imaging test.

  • A partial tear means at least some of the tendon is still okay.
  • A full tear means your tendon is torn completely and the two sides are not attached to each other.

What to Expect

If you have a complete tear, you may need surgery to repair your tendon. Your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of surgery with you. Before surgery, you will wear a special boot that keeps you from moving your lower leg and foot.

For a partial tear:

  • You may need surgery.
  • Instead of surgery, you may need to wear a cast, leg brace, splint, or boot for about 6 weeks. During this time, your tendon grows back together.

If you have a cast, it will cover your foot and go to your knee. Your toes will be pointing downward. The cast will be changed every 2 - 3 weeks to help stretch your tendon.

If you have a leg brace, splint, or boot, it will keep you from moving your foot. This will prevent further injury. You can walk once your health care provider says it is okay to.

Symptom Relief

To relieve swelling:

  • Put an ice pack on the area right after you injure it.
  • Use pillows to raise your leg above the level of your heart when you sleep.
  • Keep your foot elevated when you are sitting.

You can take ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), naproxen (such as Aleve or Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain.

  • Do NOT give aspirin to children.
  • If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or bleeding, talk with your health care provider before using these medicines.
  • Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle.

Rehab and Activity

At some point as you recover, your health care provider will ask you to begin moving your heel. This may be as soon as 2 - 3 weeks or as long 6 weeks after your injury.

With the help of physical therapy, most people can return to normal activity in 4 - 6 months. In physical therapy, you will learn exercises to make your calf muscles stronger and your Achilles tendon more flexible.

When you stretch your calf muscles, do so slowly. Also, do not bounce or use too much force when you use your leg.

After you heal, you are at greater risk for injuring your Achilles tendon again.

After healing you will need to:

  • Stay in good shape and stretch before any exercise.
  • Avoid high-heeled shoes.
  • Ask your health care provider if it is okay for you to play tennis, racquetball, basketball, and other sports where you stop and start.
  • Do proper amount of warm up and stretching ahead of time.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Swelling or pain in your leg, ankle, or foot becomes worse.
  • Your leg or foot turns purple.
  • Fever

Also call your provider if you have questions or concerns that cannot wait until your next visit.

References

Baer GS, Keene JS. Tendon injuries of the foot and ankle. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr., Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2009:section D.


Review Date: 6/28/2012
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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