Ankle Tendon Injuries

What is the Achilles Tendon?

A tendon is a band of tissue that connects a muscle to a bone. The Achilles tendon runs down the back of the lower leg and connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. Also called the “heel cord,” the Achilles tendon facilitates walking by helping to raise the heel off the ground.

What is an Achilles Tendon Rupture?

An Achilles tendon rupture is a complete or partial tear that occurs when the tendon is stretched beyond its capacity. Forceful jumping or pivoting, or sudden accelerations of running, can overstretch the tendon and cause a tear. An injury to the tendon can also result from falling or tripping.

Achilles tendon ruptures are most often seen in “weekend warriors”— typically, middle-aged people participating in sports in their spare time. Less commonly, illness or medications, such as steroids or certain antibiotics, may weaken the tendon and contribute to ruptures.

achilles tendon
achilles tendon

Signs and Symptoms

A person with a ruptured Achilles tendon may experience one or more of the following:

  • Sudden pain (which feels like a kick or a stab) in the back of the ankle or calf—often subsiding into a dull ache
  • A popping or snapping sensation
  • Swelling on the back of the leg between the heel and the calf
  • Difficulty walking (especially upstairs or uphill) and difficulty rising up on the toes

These symptoms require prompt medical attention to prevent further damage. Until the patient is able to see a doctor, the “R.I.C.E.” method should be used. This involves:

  • Rest. Stay off the injured foot and ankle, since walking can cause pain or further damage.
  • Ice. Apply a bag of ice covered with a thin towel to reduce swelling and pain. Do not put ice directly against the skin.
  • Compression.Wrap the foot and ankle in an elastic bandage to prevent further swelling.
  • Elevation. Keep the leg elevated to reduce the swelling. It should be even with or slightly above heart level.


In diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture, the foot and ankle surgeon will ask questions about how and when the injury occurred and whether the patient has previously injured the tendon or experienced similar symptoms. The surgeon will examine the foot and ankle, feeling for a defect in the tendon that suggests a tear. Range of motion and muscle strength will be evaluated and compared to the uninjured foot and ankle. If the Achilles tendon is ruptured, the patient will have less strength in pushing down (as on a gas pedal) and will have difficulty rising on the toes.

The diagnosis of an Achilles tendon rupture is typically straightforward and can be made through this type of examination. In some cases, however, the surgeon may order an MRI or other advanced imaging tests.


Treatment options for an Achilles tendon rupture include surgical and non-surgical approaches. The decision of whether to proceed with surgery or non-surgical treatment is based on the severity of the rupture and the patient’s health status and activity level.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Non-surgical treatment, which is generally associated with a higher rate of re-rupture, is selected for minor ruptures, less active patients, and those with medical conditions that prevent them from undergoing surgery. Non-surgical treatment involves use of a cast, walking boot, or brace to restrict motion and allow the torn tendon to heal.


Surgery offers important potential benefits. Besides decreasing the likelihood of re-rupturing the Achilles tendon, surgery often increases the patient’s push-off strength and improves muscle function and movement of the ankle.

Various surgical techniques are available to repair the rupture. The surgeon will select the procedure best suited to the patient.

Following surgery, the foot and ankle are initially immobilized in a cast or walking boot. The surgeon will determine when the patient can begin weightbearing.

Complications such as incision healing difficulties, re-rupture of the tendon, or nerve pain can arise after surgery.

Physical Therapy

Whether an Achilles tendon rupture is treated surgically or non-surgically, physical therapy is an important component of the healing process. Physical therapy involves exercises that strengthen the muscles and improve the range of motion of the foot and ankle.

What Are the Peroneal Tendons?

A tendon is a band of tissue that connects a muscle to a bone. The two peroneal tendons in the foot run side-by-side behind the outer ankle bone. One peroneal tendon attaches to the outer part of the midfoot, while the other tendon runs under the foot and attaches near the inside of the arch. The main function of the peroneal tendons is to stabilize the foot and ankle and protect them from sprains.

achilles tendon

Causes and Symptoms of Peroneal Tendon Injuries

Peroneal tendon injuries may be acute (occurring suddenly) or chronic (developing over a period of time). They most commonly occur in individuals who participate in sports that involve repetitive ankle motion. In addition, people with higher arches are at risk for developing peroneal tendon injuries. Basic types of peroneal tendon injuries are tendonitis, tears, and subluxation.

Tendonitis is an inflammation of one or both tendons. The inflammation is caused by activities involving repetitive use of the tendon, overuse of the tendon, or trauma (such as an ankle sprain). Symptoms of tendonitis include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth to the touch

Acute tears are caused by repetitive activity or trauma. Immediate symptoms of acute tears include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Weakness or instability of the foot and ankle

As time goes on, these tears may lead to a change in the shape of the foot, in which the arch may become higher.

Degenerative tears (tendonosis) are usually due to overuse and occur over long periods of time – often years. In degenerative tears, the tendon is like taffy that has been overstretched until it becomes thin and eventually frays. Having high arches also puts you at risk for developing a degenerative tear. The symptoms of degenerative tears may include:

  • Sporadic pain (occurring from time to time) on the outside of the ankle
  • Weakness or instability in the ankle
  • An increase in the height of the arch

Subluxation – one or both tendons have slipped out of their normal position. In some cases, subluxation is due to a condition in which a person is born with a variation in the shape of the bone or muscle. In other cases, subluxation occurs following trauma, such as an ankle sprain. Damage or injury to the tissues that stabilize the tendons (retinaculum) can lead to chronic tendon subluxation. The symptoms of subluxation may include:

  • A snapping feeling of the tendon around the ankle bone
  • Sporadic pain behind the outside ankle bone
  • Ankle instability or weakness

Early treatment of a subluxation is critical, since a tendon that continues to sublux (move out of position) is more likely to tear or rupture. Therefore, if you feel the characteristic snapping, see a foot and ankle surgeon immediately.


Because peroneal tendon injuries are sometimes misdiagnosed and may worsen without proper treatment, prompt evaluation by a foot and ankle surgeon is advised. To diagnose a peroneal tendon injury, the surgeon will examine the foot and look for pain, instability, swelling, warmth, and weakness on the outer side of the ankle. In addition, an x-ray or other advanced imaging studies may be needed to fully evaluate the injury. The foot and ankle surgeon will also look for signs of an ankle sprain and other related injuries that sometimes accompany a peroneal tendon injury. Proper diagnosis is important because prolonged discomfort after a simple sprain may be a sign of additional problems.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of peroneal tendon injury. Options include:

  • Immobilization. A cast or splint may be used to keep the foot and ankle from moving and allow the injury to heal.
  • Medications. Oral or injected anti-inflammatory drugs may help relieve the pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy. Ice, heat, or ultrasound therapy may be used to reduce swelling and pain. As symptoms improve, exercises can be added to strengthen the muscles and improve range of motion and balance.
  • Bracing. The surgeon may provide a brace to use for a short while or during activities requiring repetitive ankle motion. Bracing may also be an option when a patient is not a candidate for surgery.

When is Surgery Needed?

In some cases, surgery may be needed to repair the tendon or tendons and perhaps the supporting structures of the foot. The foot and ankle surgeon will determine the most appropriate procedure for the patient’s condition and lifestyle. After surgery, physical therapy is an important part of rehabilitation.