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Complete Achilles Tendon Rupture Treatments

Overview

The Achilles tendon is at the back of the heel. It can be ruptured by sudden force on the foot or ankle. If your Achilles tendon is ruptured you will be unable to stand on tiptoe, and will have a flat-footed walk. It is important to diagnose and treat this injury as soon as possible, to help promote healing. Treatment involves wearing a plaster cast or brace (orthosis) for several weeks, and possibly having an operation.


Causes
Your Achilles tendon helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. Rupture usually occurs in the section of the tendon located within 2 1/2 inches (about 6 centimeters) of the point where it attaches to the heel bone. This section may be predisposed to rupture because it gets less blood flow, which also may impair its ability to heal. Ruptures often are caused by a sudden increase in the amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. Common examples include increasing the intensity of sports participation, especially in sports that involve jumping, falling from a height, stepping into a hole.


Symptoms
It happens suddenly, often without warning. There is often a popping sound when the tendon ruptures. The patient usually feel as if someone has kicked their heel from the rear, only to turn around to find nobody there. There is acute pain and swelling in the back of the heel due to bleeding from the tendon rupture. The patient will have difficulty walking as they cannot toe off without pain. This causes them to walk with a limp.


Diagnosis
Most Achilles tendon ruptures occur in people between 30 and 50 years old and such injuries are often sport-related. If you suspect an Achilles injury, it is best to apply ice, elevate the leg, and see a specialist. One of the first things the doctor will do is evaluate your leg and ankle for swelling and discoloration. You may feel tenderness and the doctor may detect a gap where the ends of the tendon are separated. In addition to X-rays, the calf squeeze, or Thompson test, will be performed to confirm an Achilles tendon rupture. With your knee bent, the doctor will squeeze the muscles of your calf and if your tendon is intact the foot and ankle will automatically flex downward. In the case of a ruptured Achilles there will be no movement in the foot and ankle during the test.


Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor will advise you exactly when to start your home physical therapy program, what exercises to do, how much, and for how long to continue them. Alphabet Range of Motion exercises. Typically, the first exercise to be started (once out of a non-removable cast). While holding your knee and leg still (or cross your leg), you simply write the letters of the alphabet in an imaginary fashion while moving your foot and ankle (pretend that the tip of your toe is the tip of a pencil). Motion the capital letter A, then B, then C, all the way through Z. Do this exercise three times per day (or as your doctor advises). Freeze a paper cup with water, and then use the ice to massage the tendon area as deeply as tolerated. The massage helps to reduce the residual inflammation and helps to reduce the scarring and bulkiness of the tendon at the injury site. Do the ice massage for 15-20 minutes, three times per day (or as your doctor advises). Calf Strength exercises. This exercise is typically delayed and not used in the initial stages of rehabilitation, begin only when your doctor advises. This exercise is typically done while standing on just the foot of the injured side. Sometimes, the doctor will advise you to start with standing on both feet. Stand on a step with your forefoot on the step and your heel off the step. The heel and forefoot should be level (neither on your tip toes nor with your heel down). Lower your heel very slowly as low as it will go, then rise back up to the level starting position, again very slowly. This is not a fast exercise. Repeat the exercise as tolerated. The number of repetitions may be very limited at first. Progress the number of repetitions as tolerated. Do this exercise one to two times per day (or as your doctor advises).


Surgical Treatment
Immediate surgical repair of the tendon is indicated in complete tears. Delaying surgery can lead to shortening of the tendon, formation of scar tissue and decreased blood flow, which can lead to a poor outcome. Following surgery your ankle will be put in an immobilizing device and you will be instructed to use crutches to limit weight bearing and protect the joint. Over the next 2-4 weeks weight bearing will be increased and physical therapy will be initiated. The surgeon will determine the physical therapy timeline and program. Physical Therapy, Treatment will emphasize gradual weaning off the immobilizing device, increased weight bearing, restoration of ankle range of motion and strengthening of the lower leg muscles. It is important that the physician and therapist communicate during the early stages and progress your program based on the principles of healing so as not to compromise the Achilles tendon. Patient will be progressed to more functional activities as normal ankle range of motion and strength is restored.


Prevention
To reduce your chance of developing Achilles tendon problems, follow the following tips. Stretch and strengthen calf muscles. Stretch your calf to the point at which you feel a noticeable pull but not pain. Don’t bounce during a stretch. Calf-strengthening exercises can also help the muscle and tendon absorb more force and prevent injury. Vary your exercises. Alternate high-impact sports, such as running, with low-impact sports, such as walking, biking or swimming. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your Achilles tendons, such as hill running and jumping activities. Choose running surfaces carefully. Avoid or limit running on hard or slippery surfaces. Dress properly for cold-weather training and wear well-fitting athletic shoes with proper cushioning in the heels. Increase training intensity slowly. Achilles tendon injuries commonly occur after abruptly increasing training intensity. Increase the distance, duration and frequency of your training by no more than 10 percent each week.

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