Warning Signs That You've Torn Your Achilles Tendon

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When your ankle is achy and stiff, the problem could be tendonitis, bursitis, or arthritis, but when your Achilles heel snaps, the signs are unmistakable. Here’s how to tell if you’ve ruptured the tendon at the back of your ankle.

Your ankles carry you and your weight around all day, walking, running, climbing, jumping, and lifting without much complaint. When you experience ankle pain, and they start to ache and stiffen, there’s a long list of possible culprits, including arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, infection, sprain, and strain. 

But when you injure your Achilles tendon, you know it.

Dr. Matthew Cerniglia often sees the signs of a ruptured Achilles tendon here at the Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas. From our office in Fort Worth, he diagnoses and treats all types of ankle conditions, and our patients frequently ask how to spot the signs of a torn Achilles tendon. Here’s what you need to know.

What is an Achilles tendon?

Ever wonder how this part of anatomy got its name? In Greek mythology, Achilles’ mother wanted to protect him from harm eternally, so she dipped him in the River Styx, holding him by the heel. That spot on his ankle remained vulnerable and ultimately led to his death when his enemy shot an arrow at his heel. The name “Achilles heel” found its way into anatomy textbooks and stuck.

Your Achilles tendon is the biggest, strongest tendon in your body, enabling your legs to run and jump. 

Signs of a ruptured Achilles tendon

When you tear your Achilles tendon, you know it. A rupture typically happens when you make a sudden movement that places extraordinary pressure on the tendon. One of the most common culprits is the pivot move in basketball, so if you’re into hoops, beware. 

And it’s not just basketball. Soccer, football, handball, squash, tennis, and volleyball can put your Achilles tendons at risk because these sports require sudden starts, stops, and pivots. You don’t need to be an athlete to rupture your Achilles tendon; a misstep on the stairs, a trip off a curb, or playing tag with your kids can do it, too.

Here are the telltale signs of a ruptured Achilles tendon:

  • You notice a popping sensation
  • You hear a popping sound
  • You feel a sudden, sharp pain
  • Your ankle swells and bruises
  • The pain worsens when you try to walk, especially uphill

Whether you’re a weekend warrior, a serious athlete, or an active person, you’re at high risk for an Achilles tendon injury. You can take steps to avoid a rupture by strengthening the support muscles in your ankles, increasing your workout intensity gradually, warming up, and stretching your calves and ankles before a game or workout.

How we treat Achilles tendon ruptures

Although the symptoms alone are pretty good indicators of a ruptured Achilles tendon, Dr. Cerniglia confirms the diagnosis with a physical exam and imaging tests. 

At the very least, you should stay off of your ankle for a while following the RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Dr. Cerniglia may recommend a brace or cast to keep your ankle immobile and in a downward flexed position as it heals. 

For severe ruptures, especially in young and active people who plan to compete athletically, surgery may be the best treatment to repair the torn tendon.

During and after healing, physical therapy helps you regain your strength and retrain your ankle to prevent future injuries. Without treatment, your ruptured Achilles tendon can heal incorrectly, leading to a high risk of repeat injury, chronic pain, and instability. 

If you suspect a ruptured Achilles tendon, get the care you need at the Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas by booking online or calling our friendly staff.