As the days continue to get shorter and temperatures begin a slow steady decline, athletes and exercise enthusiasts will work harder to “fit in” a warm-up before running or other activities during the winter months. But, no matter how limited time is, skipping the warm-up is risky. This time of year, one can expect to feel a little cold and stiff, especially if you are over 40, and therefore a little caution and preparation are in order to avoid muscle/tendon strain, or worse yet, muscle/tendon tears. The Achilles tendon is one of the more common tendons torn. Prevention of muscle tears, including the Achilles tendon includes; gradual introduction to new activities, good overall conditioning, sport specific training, pre-stretch warm-up, stretch, strengthening, proper shoes, clothing, and equipment for the sport and conditions.
A muscle contracts to move bones and joints in the body. The tendon is the fibrous tissue that attaches muscle to bone. Great force is transmitted across a tendon which, in the lower body, can be more than 5 times your body weight. Often, a tendon can become inflamed, irritated, strained or partially torn from improper mechanics or overuse. Although infrequent, occasionally tendons can also snap or rupture. A tendon is more vulnerable to a rupture for several reasons such as a history of repeated injections of steroids into a tendon and use of medications such as corticosteroids and some antibiotics. Certain diseases such as gout, arthritis, diabetes or hyperparathyroidism can contribute to tendon tears. Also, age, obesity and gender are significant risk factors as middle-aged, overweight males are more susceptible to tendon tears. Poor conditioning, improper warm-up and cold temperatures may also contribute to the problem.
Tendon rupture is very painful and debilitating and must not be left untreated. While conservative management is preferred, surgical management is usually required for complete tears. The purpose of this column is to present the signs, symptoms and management of Achilles tendon ruptures.
The Achilles tendon (also called the calcaneal tendon), is a large, strong cordlike band of fibrous tissue in the back of the ankle. The tendon (also called the heel cord) connects the powerful calf muscle to the heel bone (also called the calcaneus). When the calf muscle contracts, (as when you walk on the ball of your foot), the Achilles tendon is tightened, tension is created at the heel and the foot points down like pushing a gas pedal or walking on tip of your toes. This motion is essential for activities such as walking, running, and jumping. A partial tear of the tendon would make these activities weak and painful, while a full tear through the tendon would render these activities impossible.
With age, the Achilles tendon (and other tendons) gets weak, thin, and dehydrated, thus making it prone to inflammation, degeneration, partial tear or rupture. The middle-aged weekend warrior is at greatest risk. A full or complete tear (Achilles tendon rupture) usually occurs about 2 inches above the heel bone and is associated with a sudden burst of activity followed by a quick stop or a quick start or change in direction, as in tennis, racquet ball, and basketball.
In some instances, the tendon can be injured by a violent contraction of calf when you push off forcefully at the same time the knee is locked straight as in a sudden sprint. Other times, the tendon is injured when a sudden and unexpected force occurs as in a trip off a curb or sudden step into a hole or a quick attempt to break a fall.
NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” Next Week: Achilles tendon Part 2 of 2.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.