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What Are The Signs Of A Ruptured Achilles Tendon?

Overview

Achilles tendon rupture is most common in people aged 30-50. Patients may describe the injury as feeling or hearing a snap or bang, or as feeling they have been shot in the back of the leg. On examination, patients will have reduced plantarflexion and a positive Thompson test. Surgery is associated with a lower risk of re-rupture and a greater likelihood of returning to sporting activity. Conservative management reduces the chance of complications.


Causes
Factors that may increase your risk of Achilles tendon rupture include Age. The peak age for Achilles tendon rupture is 30 to 40. Your sex. Achilles tendon rupture is up to five times more likely to occur in men than in women. Playing recreational sports. Achilles tendon injuries occur more often in sports that involve running, jumping and sudden starts and stops - such as soccer, basketball and tennis. Steroid injections. Doctors sometimes inject steroids into an ankle joint to reduce pain and inflammation. However, this medication can weaken nearby tendons and has been associated with Achilles tendon ruptures. Certain antibiotics. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or levofloxacin (Levaquin), increase the risk of Achilles tendon rupture.


Symptoms
When the Achilles tendon ruptures a loud bang or popping sound may be heard. The person may feel that they have been hit or kicked in the back of the lower leg and often they will look over their shoulder to see who or what has hit them. This is quickly followed by the sudden onset of sharp pain in the tendon and a loss of strength and function. If a complete rupture has occurred it may not be possible to lift the heel off the ground or point the toes. Often the degree of pain experienced, or lack of it, can be inversely proportional to the extent of the injury, ie a partial rupture may in fact be more painful than a complete rupture.


Diagnosis
A diagnosis can be made clinically, but an MRI or ultrasound scan can confirm it. On examination, the patient will present with reduced plantarflexion strength, a positive Thompson test and potentially, a palpable gap in the Achilles. The whole length of the tendon should be examined to check for injuries that can occur at the insertion and the musculotendinous junction.


Non Surgical Treatment
Two treatment options are casting or surgery. If an Achilles tendon rupture is untreated then it may not heal properly and could lead to loss of strength. Decisions about treatment options should be made on an individual basis. Non-surgical management traditionally is selected for minor ruptures, less active patients, and those with medical conditions that prevent them from undergoing surgery. The goal of casting is to allow the tendon to slowly heal over time. The foot and ankle are positioned to bring the torn ends of the tendon close together. Casting or bracing for up to 12 weeks or more may be necessary. This method can be effective and avoids some risks, such as infection, associated with surgery. However, the likelihood of re-rupture may be higher with a non-surgical approach and recovery can take longer.


Surgical Treatment
Surgery to repair an Achilles tendon rupture is performed under a spinal or general anaesthetic. During surgery the surgeon makes an incision in the skin over the ruptured portion of the tendon. The tendon ends are located and joined together with strong sutures (stitches), allowing the tendon to closely approximate its previous length. The skin is then closed with sutures and the foot is immobilised in a cast or splint, again in the toes-pointed position. Seven to ten days after surgery the cast or splint is removed in order for the sutures in the skin to be removed. Another cast or splint will be applied and will stay in place a further 5 - 7 weeks.

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