The terms “rupture” and “tear” tend to be used interchangeably when referring to tendon and ligament injuries. But, is there a difference? A tear can be partial or complete. When you experience a complete tear it is, essentially, the same thing as a rupture.
Tears to tendons and ligaments are common among people who play sports, and they can be extremely painful.
Ruptures are less common but when they do occur they can be excruciating and can result in permanent damage if left untreated.
1. Achilles tendon
The Achilles tendon runs from the heel bones up to the calf muscle. It is one of the tendons most commonly injured during sports, particularly gymnastics, dancing, tennis, basketball or running.
You can tear or rupture your Achilles tendon by quick movements, for example starting a race. Injuries most often occur when you do not warm up the muscles properly and stretch before exercising.
It may happen if you have fallen arches or if you are accustomed to wearing high heels, which can put stress on the tendon.
Signs to look out for
You might hear a snapping sound or a pop when the tendon tears. The pain might be mild at first but it could be severe and sudden. In this situation, if you can’t rise onto your toes it is a good indicator that you have torn your tendon. You should visit a doctor straight away to get an accurate diagnosis.
Non-operative treatment is often best for a torn Achilles tendon. You will have to wear a special removable boot for three weeks, which holds your toes in a downwards-pointing position, then three weeks with it half way and then three weeks with your foot in a regular position. You will be able to put weight on your foot throughout this treatment. Occassionally operative repair of the tendon is recommended, particularly if there is a delay in diagnosis or if you are an athlete as operative repair has a lower re-rupture rate.
2. Other tendon injuries
The other tendons that are commonly affected by tears or ruptures are:
These are the muscles just above the kneecap that are used to extend the leg.
If the quadriceps are ruptured, you will need surgery after which you will need to wear a brace. Once the brace is removed you will need physical therapy for up to six months to regain your leg strength.
Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect the bones in your body. If they are stretched the wrong way they can snap, causing considerable pain, instability and life changing damage in some cases.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament
This is one of the ligaments in the knee joint and is the most common type of ligament tear in sports people.
Signs to look out for
If you tear any ligament you will experience pain and swelling, you may hear a popping sound as the ligament tears and you will be unable to put weight on the injured area.
Treatment: You should seek immediate medical help. The treatment offered will depend on the location and extent of the tear.
It is difficult to prevent tears and ruptures if you are a sports person but good preparation and keeping your muscles strong can help. Always warm up before exercise and maintain your flexibility by stretching regularly. Build up gradually and don’t suddenly increase the intensity of your exercise regime.