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What Causes a Snapped Achilles Tendon?

By Kelly Ferguson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Achilles tendon is the body's largest tendon, connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. A snapped Achilles tendon can result when too much force is applied to the tendon, usually during a sports activity or an accident. Certain diseases and medicines can weaken the Achilles tendon and make injury more likely, but more commonly, a weakened tendon comes from age or inactivity. People most at risk for a snapped Achilles tendon are middle aged, sedentary or mostly sedentary, who suddenly attempt a physically demanding activity for which the body is not prepared. In most cases, a complete snap is more likely than a partial tearing of the tendon.

Without the Achilles tendon, humans could not run, jump, pivot, or even walk effectively. Due to the forces that the tendon is subjected to during these movements, sports that involve a large amount of running, jumping, or pivoting are more likely than others to cause a snapped Achilles tendon. This is most likely to occur in an individual who is engaging in an activity beyond his or her normal activity level. Though a snapped Achilles tendon is most commonly the result of a sports injury, accidents that suddenly and dramatically overstretch the tendon, such as falling from a significant distance, can also cause a snapped Achilles tendon.

Tendon injuries and overuse may lead to tendinitis, which is injury or inflammation of the tendon. Some medications and diseases, including diabetes, can also weaken the tendons all over the body and cause tendinitis. Tendinitis can make a snapped Achilles tendon more likely.

It is important to take precautions to prevent a snapped Achilles tendon. The injury can be very painful and debilitating. Typically, treatment of this condition requires surgery and an extensive period of rest, followed by physical therapy to strengthen and re-stretch the tendon.

Most fitness and medical professionals agree that the best way to avoid a snapped Achilles tendon is to properly stretch and warm up before exercising. Ensuring that the Achilles tendon is warmed up prior to exercise or sports makes it more pliable and less likely to be injured. It is also very important to wear the right footwear for the specific sport or exercise being performed. If tendinitis or other injuries are suspected, do not keep exercising, as this could make the damage much worse, and see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

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