Within the back of our leg, located in the bottom portion of our calf, can be found the largest tendon in our bodies. Tendons are a length of fibrous collagen that is strong and durable enough to withstand the rigors of connecting muscle to bone. This tendon, known as the Achilles tendon after the figure from Greek mythology and his sole weak point, is essential in our ability to walk and move naturally. Despite its strength and durability, this tendon is still subject to damage if pushed beyond its natural limits and can be severely debilitating if it ruptures.
How To Know If Your Achilles Tendon Has Become Injured
As one of the major tendons in our bodies for walking, running, and similar movements, it’s important to recognize when it may have become injured. There are two forms of injury that can occur to tendons in general, being tendonitis and tendon rupture. Tendonitis typically results from chronic overuse and appears in patients of all kinds. Rather than a rapid onset, it tends to onset gradually, without any noticeable weakness as it progresses. This form of injury is treated with home exercises and generally conservative methods like physical therapy.
Tendon rupture, however, is a much more severe condition. A rupture can occur without any impact or contact and is often described as feeling like being struck in the heel. Sometimes this feeling is accompanied by a loud pop; other times, it occurs without any sound at all. Bruising, weakness, and pain can all accompany this injury, but symptoms may not set in immediately. Regardless, this is an urgent problem that needs treatment immediately to prevent lasting consequences.
Some things that may indicate that you’ve experienced a tendon injury include:
- A noticeable popping sound in the heel
- Swelling in the heel area
- Pain focused on the heel
- Problems bending the foot downward
- Trouble standing on the injured leg
If you’re involved in athletic activities, it’s important that you stretch previous to engaging in your sport. Doing so can provide some degree of protection for your heel when pushing your body to its limits. It’s also important that you ensure you’re wearing shoes that fit properly, as this has been shown to have an effect on injuries to the Achilles tendon as well.
Who’s At Risk For Achilles Tendon Damage and How It’s Diagnosed
Those in between their 30th-40th year are the most common patients that present with Achilles tendon injuries. Male athletes tend to experience these injuries at a rate five times that of their female counterparts. Tennis, soccer, and basketball players are particularly prone to injuries of this tendon due to the higher levels of running, jumping, and changes in movement speed. Those who are overweight also experience higher rates of injuries.
Diagnosis of Achilles tendon injuries is best made by a foot and ankle specialist. This process typically involves palpation (touch), X-Rays, and MRI to confirm the diagnosis. One test that can be done involves squeezing the calf to cause the foot to bend downward. If this does not occur, it indicates that a tendon injury may be present. If you’re concerned that you may have experienced a tendon injury, contact your foot & ankle specialist immediately.