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What to do if you tear your Achilles tendon

What to do if you tear your Achilles tendon

It is important to know what to do when you tear your Achilles tendon so you can avoid further injuries and to lay the grounds for optimal healing. Below are some pointers on what to do if you suspect you suffered a tear, and what not to do so the healing process goes unhindered. Achilles tendon injuries are most common in high impact activities. Tendon tears can also be the result of repetitive injury, or from certain medications such as steroids, that weaken the tendon over time. One can suffer a partial tear or a complete rupture of the Achilles.


Do

Do use the P.R.I.C.E recipe

After tearing your achilles tendon, weather it be traumatic or gradual, a good path of treatment to follow would be to:

  • Protect the injury
  • Rest the foot and ankle
  • Ice the back of the heel
  • Compression of the ankle using an Ace wrap to aid in reducing swelling
  • Elevation the foot to minimize the swelling as well

When icing, one should use the 20/20 rule. 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off.

Do keep the foot in a pointed position for healing

When taping, strapping, bracing, or using correct footwear for the ankle, do so in a pointed foot position to allow for healing. Keeping the foot in a pointed position will reduce the tensile forces to the tendon, and will allow for healing in a shortened position. If there is a partial teal this position will help with the recovery process. Complete tears will not heal but the position will take the stress off of the surrounding tissue and be more comfortable. Complete tears are usually treated with first-aid and need immediate medical attention.

Do take OTC anti-inflammatories and eat a diet for lowering inflammation

Taking anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help with the pain and swelling that will take place after the injury. Make sure to take them as indicated on the bottle or by your doctor. Eating a high nutrient diet that targets the injury helps to decrease inflammation and supplies the body with the necessary nutrients for tissue growth. This is very important to the healing process. One key fruit is pineapple for its Bromelain.

Do seek an orthopedic professional to confirm the tear by MRI or ultrasound imaging

By getting an image of the Achilles, you can see the extent of the damage to the tendon. Injuries of the Achilles range from Grades 1 to 4. Grade 1 being a partial tear, and Grades 2 through 4 are complete ruptures that increase in severity. If you cannot point your toes, stand on your foot, or walk on it whatsoever, it is likely you have suffered a full tear and diagnostic imaging is eminent. When the diagnosis is made, your orthopedist will initiate the proper treatment as the physical therapist follows through with management of the injury.

Do initiate an early range of motion and stretching program

It is important to begin early mobility exercises specifically geared towards maintaining range of motion, flexibility and strength of the muscles. You should consult with a qualified physical therapist for exact types of stretches you should preform. With early casting or bracing, the ankle and foot will lose range of motion, and muscle atrophy will take place. People often use the leg less with activities and put less weight on it when walking and standing. Don’t be afraid to move your foot. Calf pumps are very beneficial exercise to do because they target flexibility and muscle activity and most of all the calf muscle produces the biggest return of blood to the heart from the legs. By actively flexing and pointing the ankle while our foot is off the ground or if elevated you can relieve swelling and blood pooling and avoid possible blood clots.


Don't

Do not walk it off, put weight on the foot or try to stretch the calf

If you suspect you tore your Achilles tendon, you shouldn’t walk on it or stretch it out to test the ankle or to make it feel better. Sometimes people say, “Walk it off, it will feel better.” Please don’t! You may cause more damage or you can damage other parts of the ankle or the leg. You must make sure you only begin walking on the injured leg when instructed by your physical therapist or your doctor.

Do not resume, or initiate lower body exercise or running programs

Modification is a must! Many people will attempt to resume their exercise or running program when pain is less and/or when pain is masked by anti-inflammatories. One may also begin strengthening exercises when they feel that making the ankle stronger and pushing through the pain will fix the condition. Do away with the “no pain, no gain” mind set. Exercise shouldn’t be painful. You can modify your workouts by doing seated upper body exercise programs and by working out the opposite leg. The injured leg will catch up when the time comes.

Do not walk on slippery, hard, or unstable surfaces

Walking on a hard surface increases the impact to the achilles tendon. Walking on slippery or unstable surfaces cause unsteadiness and too many forces to the ankle. With an Achilles injury ones balance ability is lost therefore the increase risk of slipping or falling and reinjuring is high. Walking in sand or in mud is also to be avoided.

Do not take long strides with the ankle when walking

Taking a shortened stride will minimize stress to the Achilles when the foot flexes. Walking on the beach is to be avoided because it is accomplished by longer strides and flexing the ankle much more than normal walking. This puts so much stress to the calf muscle and it creates a stretching force to the Achilles tendon. Wearing flat shoes and walking barefoot should be avoided. Some people can benefit from wearing a heel lift, which keeps the foot in a semi pointed position and it will help avoid flexing of the foot.

Do not take the injury lightly or brush off the pain

Getting immediate protection for the Achilles tendon and avoiding re-injury is very important. Many times people do not get professional advice when getting hurt. This is a big mistake. If you have any doubt or uncertainty of the outcome, seek assistance! Research shows that some people have pre-rupture episodes that lead to the second injury that result in a tear.


Summary
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Tearing your Achilles tendon can be very painful and debilitating. Imaging such as diagnostic ultrasound or MRI can be very helpful in diagnosing an Achilles tendon tear. Taking proper care of it is important for healing and using the right techniques can speed up your recovery. You can minimize further damage and avoid the ups and downs of re-injuries with improper care. One can prolong the recovery process if professional advice is not taken. If the correct path is taken, you can minimize pain, heal properly, and regain function as soon as possible.


More expert advice about Injuries

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Kosta Kokolis MSPTPhysical Therapist

Kosta Kokolis is a licensed physical therapist in the state of New York . He has achieved a bachelor’s degree in health science and a master’s degree in physical therapy from New York Institute of Technology. Kosta is currently enrolled in schoo...

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