Ruptured Tendon

A complete tear in one of the tough, fibrous bands that attach muscle to bone

  • Intensive sports training and lifting heavy weights are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

A tendon may rupture when the muscle to which it is attached contracts suddenly and powerfully, usually during vigorous physical activity such as playing sports or lifting a heavy object. Athletes tend to carry out these activities more often and are therefore more likely to sustain injury. A ruptured tendon may also result from a severe blow, deep cut, or fracture. In some cases, a ruptured tendon can occur spontaneously as a complication of long-term joint disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. The tendons in the limbs, particularly the Achilles tendon (which runs from the calf muscle to the heel bone) and those in the hands, are most susceptible to rupture.

You may feel a snapping sensation in the injured area at the time that the tendon ruptures. Other symptoms include pain, impaired movement, and swelling of the affected area.

What might be done?

Diagnosis is usually obvious from the symptoms and physical examination of the affected area. Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In some cases of Achilles tendon rupture, surgery will be needed to join the torn ends of the tendon. Whether or not you have surgery for an Achilles tendon injury, the injured area will be immobilized by the successive application of different casts. The first cast holds the heel up and the toes down, to avoid stretching the tendon. Subsequent casts are used to flatten the foot gradually and return it to its normal position. You may also be advised to have physiotherapy to help to strengthen the muscles in the injured area around the tendon.

The time taken for recovery varies, but motion is usually fully restored in 4–12 months. If an Achilles tendon was involved, you may be vulnerable to further injury on the opposite side.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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