Sunday, December 14, 2008
Achilles Tendonitis Rupture?
The Achilles Tendon often ruptures somewhere around age 40 - I usually see this injury in men, but as Misty May, the US Beach Vollyball Star learned, women experience this injury as well.
The Achilles tendon, like all tendons, is a dense connective tissue made up of microfibrils of collagen, the most prevalent protein in the animal kingdom. As we age, little by little, the tendon fails microfiber by microfiber, and while this is not a serious issue on a microfiber level, at a certain point, the number of microfibers that have failed starts to interfere with the function of the tendon, usually felt as stiffness in the tendon.
When the tendon reaches a level of weakness that it starts to feel poorly, the tendinitis, there is usually already irreversible damage to the tendon with sufficient microfiber failure that leaves the tendon vulnerable to further damage and eventual rupture.
When the tendon ruptures, it often sounds like a gunshot and feels like you have been kicked on the back of the leg. I often hear stories about the person going down and looking back to see who kicked them, only to find that there is nobody there. The tendon usually ruptures when the foot is placed on the ground while moving backwards, when you plant the foot for example.
The best thing to do to avoid a rupture, and even Achilles tendinitis, is to a. stretch regularly, and b. Strengthen the muscles of the calf, and c. avoid overuse of the tissue if you can help it.
As far as strengthening and stretching are concerned, you need to remember that there are two muscles that could in fact be stretched and also strengthened. The Gastrocs and the Soleus. The Gastrocs cross the knee and the Soleus does not, so in strengthening the Gastrocs for instance, you need to keep the knee straight, while on the other hand, strengthening or stretching the Soleus, you need to keep the knee bent. I believe that most acute strains of the Gastrocs affect eh medial third of the muscle, but most ruptures of the tendon are caused by lack of stretching of the Soleus especially. So give attention to this muscle and I think that a lot of trouble can be avoided.
As for strengthening, my suggestion is that you work up to 40 continuous heel raises off a step so that the heel drops down, with both a bent leg and also a straight leg to ensure strong muscles.
As far as overuse is concerned, this is especially an issue for runners who allow their shoes to deteriorate excessively while putting on the miles, and also for basketball and tennis players, for some reason, who step backwards a lot. I think a good strengthening and stretching program will eliminate most trouble.
One thing to think about is that if you have had a lot of pain and or stiffness in the Achilles tendon over the years, you are at risk for rupture, especially if you can actually feel the tendon get a lot thinner as you palpate along its length. In that case, I suggest you perhaps avoid activities like basketball or tennis, and treat the tendon to reduce inflammation as much as possible.