Your Achilles tendon, located at the back of the ankle, connects the calf muscle to the heel bone of the foot and helps you to extend your foot and pint your toes and to achieve the “push” off of the foot. When the long tendon connecting the calf muscle to the back of the heel gets overstretched, irritated or torn, this is called an Achilles Tendon injury. Sudden jumping or planting of the foot can cause an injury, or it can occur from chronic repetitive damage or tendonitis. The pain is described as being “shot in the heel” when the tear occurs, or as a feeling of a “pop” or “explosion” when the tendon ruptures. There is usually swelling and a defect in the tendon, as well as a weakness in the foot with the tear.
Chronic repetitive damage from Achilles tendonitis is a fairly common overuse injury resulting in noticeable inflammation and irritation that may eventually lead to pain and swelling, and also to tears within the tendon. The tears make the tendon susceptible to rupture.
In a severe Achilles tendon injury, there is too much force on the tendon and it can partially tear or rupture completely. This can happen suddenly and be quite painful, and affects professional athletes, as well as amateur or “weekend warriors”.
Quick acceleration and jumping sports like football and basketball can result in these injuries. The most common cause of these tendon tears is tendinitis, a breakdown from aging or overuse. When the tendon is weakened, trauma can cause it to rupture. Overuse, stepping up physical activity too quickly, problems with feet or too tight muscles and tendons can all cause Achilles tendon injury. It is very common in runners, gymnasts, dancers, and football, baseball, softball, tennis and volleyball players.
See an orthopedic specialist when you:
- feel pain along the back of the foot and above your heel, especially when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes
- have tenderness, swelling and stiffness
- hear a snapping or popping noise during the injury
Medication to reduce inflammation and physical therapy may be the treatment. Severe tears require surgery to remove damaged tissue and repair the tendon.