, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 173-201
Date: 25 Nov 2012

Achilles Tendon Injuries in Athletes

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Summary

Two-thirds of Achilles tendon injuries in competitive athletes are paratenonitis and one-fifth are insertional complaints (bursitis and insertion tendinitis). The remaining afflictions consist of pain syndromes of the myotendineal junction and tendinopathies. The majority of Achilles tendon injuries from sport occur in males, mainly because of their higher rates of participation in sport, but also with tendinopathies a gender difference is probably indicated. Athletes in running sports have a high incidence of Achilles tendon overuse injuries. About 75% of total and the majority of partial tendon ruptures are related to sports activities usually involving abrupt repetitive jumping and sprinting movements. Mechanical factors and a sedentary lifestyle play a role in the pathology of these injuries. Achilles tendon overuse injuries occur at a higher rate in older athletes than most other typical overuse injuries. Recreational athletes with a complete Achilles tendon rupture are about 15 years younger than those with other spontaneous tendon ruptures.

Following surgery, about 70 to 90% of athletes have a successful comeback after Achilles tendon injury. Surgery is required in about 25% of athletes with Achilles tendon overuse injuries and the frequency of surgery increases with patient age and duration of symptoms as well as occurrence of tendinopathic changes. However, about 20% of injured athletes require a re-operation for Achilles tendon overuse injuries, and about 3 to 5% are compelled to abandon their sports career because of these injuries. Myotendineal junction pain should be treated conservatively. Partial Achilles tendon ruptures are primarily treated conservatively, although the best treatment method of chronic partial rupture seems to be surgery. Complete Achilles tendon ruptures of athletes are treated surgically, because this increases the likelihood of athletes reaching preinjury activity levels and minimises the risk of re-ruptures.

Marked forefoot varus is found in athletes with Achilles tendon overuse injuries, reflecting the predisposing role of ankle joint overpronation. Athletes with the major stress in lower extremities have often a limited range of motion in the passive dorsiflexion of the ankle joint and total subtalar joint mobility, which seems to be a predisposing factor for these injuries. Various predisposing transient factors are found in about one-third of athletes with Achilles tendon overuse injuries; of these, traumatic factors (mostly minor injuries) predominate.

The typical histological features of chronically inflamed paratendineal tissue of the Achilles tendon are profound proliferation of loose, immature connective tissue and marked obliterative and degenerative alterations in the blood vessels. These changes cause continuing leakage of plasma proteins, which may have an important role in the pathophysiology of these injuries. The chronically inflamed paratendineal tissues of the Achilles tendon do not seem to have enough capacity to form mature connective tissue.