What is an Achilles Tendon Tear?

A weekend warrior feels a ‘pop’ in his heel after landing from a dunk attempt. A good friend helping to push a broken-down car feels a ‘snap.’  Both feel like someone hit them with an object on the back of the heel.

These are some of the more common histories for tearing your Achilles tendon. Even though the Achilles is one of the largest, strongest tendons in the body, it can still become injured and even need surgery. Men between ages 30-40 are the most common victims of an Achilles tendon tear, but it can happen to anyone at any age.


Where is the Achilles tendon and what does it do?

The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. Tendons connect muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon connects your strong calf muscles to your heel bone (calcaneus). Your calf muscles are made up of the gastrocnemius and soleus. The Achilles tendon gives you strength when you run and push off from your foot. There is a watershed zone (area with decreased blood flow), 4-6 cm from your heel that is at most risk for rupture.


How do I know if I tore my Achilles tendon?

An orthopedic surgeon can evaluate if you tore you Achilles tendon. When you injure your Achilles tendon, the pain usually improves in a few days. Almost 25% of Achilles tendon tears are not diagnosed right away, as there are other muscles in the leg that provide some strength. An undiagnosed Achilles tendon tear can lead to long term weakness, so early diagnosis is key.

Orthopedic surgeons will order radiographs to evaluate for any fractures, and there are radiographic signs that may suggest your Achilles tendon is torn. Specifically, Kager’s triangle is a black triangle seen on radiographs that is disrupted when the Achilles is injured. Additionally, on physical exam, with a patient laying on their stomach, the orthopedic surgeon can evaluate for an Achilles tendon tear. Often, the injured side is compared to the un-injured side to aide in diagnosis.


The orthopedic surgeons at Southwest Orthopedic Group can order in office radiographs and perform a physical exam to determine if you tore your Achilles tendon.


The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) has more information about Achilles tendon tears at FootCareMD.

Eugene Stautberg, MD

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