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Achilles Tendon Injury Tests

Overview

Achilles tendon ruptures may be divided into full thickness (”total”) and partial thickness ruptures. Total ruptures usually occur in formerly active athletes (average age 40) who resume sport activity after having been away from it for some time. In these cases, degenerative changes have weakened the tendon so much that sudden, forceful loading of the tendon causes it to tear. To some extent, these changes in the tendon could have been prevented by regular physical activity. In most cases, the injury mechanism is a strong activation of the posterior lower leg musculature, eccentrically overloading the tendon. A typical mechanism of injury involves pushing off hard with the weight-bearing foot while the knee is extended (e.g., running uphill) or sudden, unexpected dorsal extension of the ankle with reflex contraction of the calf musculature (e.g., falling down into a hole).


Causes
A rupture occurs when a patient overstretches the Achilles tendon, an act which causes it to tear partially or completely. Achilles tendon ruptures can occur during athletic play or any time the tendon is stretched in an unexpected way.


Symptoms
Symptoms of an Achilles tendon rupture include sensation that someone or something has hit the back of the calf muscle, sudden pain, pain when walking, weakness in the leg, which is particularly noticeable when trying to push off while walking and there is not sufficient strength to do so.


Diagnosis
The actual area of an Achilles tendon rupture cannot be seen on x-ray. Therefore, although x-rays are often done to rule out bony injuries in individuals with an Achilles tendon rupture these x-rays are usually normal. Diagnostic ultrasound of the tendon can be performed to assess the integrity of the tendon. Other diagnostic tests, such as MRI’s, may also be required in difficult cases.


Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of the initial injury is with use of ice, elevation, and immobilization. If suspected you should contact your podiatrist or physician. Further treatment with continued immobilization, pain medication, or anti-inflammatory medications may be advised. If casted the foot is usually placed in a plantarflexed position to decrease the stretch on the tendon. As healing progresses the cast is changed to a more dorsiflexed position at the ankle. The casting processes can be up to 8 weeks or more.


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.


Prevention
There are things you can do to help prevent an Achilles tendon injury. You should try the following. Cut down on uphill running. Wear shoes with good support that fit well. Always increase the intensity of your physical activity slowly. Stop exercising if you feel pain or tightness in the back of your calf or heel.

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