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The Facts Not Fallacies Regarding Ruptured Achilles Tendons

Overview

Many of the muscles that move the foot are found in the lower leg. These muscles attach via tendons to various bones in the foot. The main muscles that move the foot downwards (plantar flex the foot) and propel the body forward are the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus muscles). These muscles are connected to the heel bone (calcaneus) by the “rope like” Achilles tendon. Achilles tendon rupture is the term used to describe a complete tear of the Achilles tendon. The most common site for Achilles tendon rupture to occur is an area 2 - 6 cm. (1 - 2.5 in.) above where the tendon attaches to the calcaneus.


Causes
Causes of and contributors to Achilles tendon rupture include trauma (caused by injury, usually an acceleration injury such as pushing off or jumping up). Preceding tendon problems. Chronic Achilles tendonitis (can lead to small tears within the tendon, increasingly weakening it). Certain drug therapies/treatments. Drugs that have been linked to Achilles tendon rupture include. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics - after nearly 900 reports of tendon ruptures, tendonitis and other tendon disorders (most associated with the Achilles tendon) linked to Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) alone were collected in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?s database, at least one public-interest group petitioned the FDA to recommend that a “Black Box Warning” be added to Cipro’s packaging. Some researchers speculate this class of antibiotics is toxic to tendon fibers, and that in some cases may reduce their blood supply. Patients should at least be more aware of the potential for ruptures so that they can be switched to other antibiotics at the onset of early warning signals such as tendon pain.


Symptoms
An Achilles tendon rupture is when the tendon that connects the heel bone to the calf muscle tears and the fibers separate. This happens mostly between the ages of 30 and 50, and usually is caused by sports. Symptoms of Achilles tendon rupture include the following. A pop or snap when the tendon tears. Severe pain in back of the ankle, making it nearly impossible to walk. Swelling and discoloration. Tenderness. Inability to rise on toes. A gap in the back of the ankle where the tendons are separated.


Diagnosis
In diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture, the foot and ankle surgeon will ask questions about how and when the injury occurred and whether the patient has previously injured the tendon or experienced similar symptoms. The surgeon will examine the foot and ankle, feeling for a defect in the tendon that suggests a tear. Range of motion and muscle strength will be evaluated and compared to the uninjured foot and ankle. If the Achilles tendon is ruptured, the patient will have less strength in pushing down (as on a gas pedal) and will have difficulty rising on the toes. The diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is typically straightforward and can be made through this type of examination. In some cases, however, the surgeon may order an MRI or other advanced imaging tests.


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
Unlike other diseases of the Achilles tendon such as tendonitis or bursitis, Achilles tendon rupture is usually treated with surgical repair. The surgery consists of making a small incision in the back part of the leg, and using sutures to re-attach the two ends of the ruptured tendon. Depending on the condition of the ends of the ruptured tendon and the amount of separation, the surgeon may use other tendons to reinforce the repair. After the surgery, the leg will be immobilized for 6-8 weeks in a walking boot, cast, brace, or splint. Following this time period, patients work with a physical therapist to gradually regain their range of motion and strength. Return to full activity can take quite a long time, usually between 6 months and 1 year.

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