Tendons are bands of connective tissue that connect muscles to bones. The tendons in the ankle allow muscles in the leg (such as the calf muscles) to move the foot. Torn tendons are a common sports injury and, aside from being painful, can cause weakness or loss of function of some motions within the ankle.
There are many different tendons that run through the ankle, according to Sports Injury Info. The Achilles tendon is located at the back of the ankle and allows the calf muscles to attach to the foot and is one of the more commonly torn tendons. Two other commonly torn tendons are the posterior tibial tendon (which runs along the medial side of the ankle) and the peroneal tendon (located on the lateral portion of the ankle).
There are two different types of ankle tendon tears. Acute tears, according to FootHealthFacts.org, are the result of trauma or a sudden movement that causes the tendon to snap. Degenerative tears (also known as chronic tears) are the result of overuse and typically occur over the course of years. They are the result of the tendon being stretched thin, which causes it to fray.
A complete tear of a tendon in the ankle causes dysfunction of the muscles to which the tendon is attached. Rupture of the Achilles tendon, according to the Mayo Clinic, causes an inability to push the injured foot downward, which also makes it impossible to stand on tip toes on the injured foot. A ruptured peroneal tendon can cause the arch of the foot to become higher, whereas a tear in the posterior tibial tendon will cause the foot to flatten.
Other symptoms commonly associated with a tearing of a tendon in the foot are ankle pain and swelling. The Mayo Clinic explains that the pain may be severe and the swelling typically occurs in the area around the torn tendon. Some patients are able to hear the tendon break as it causes a snapping or popping sound.
Treatment varies depending if the tear is partial or complete, which is usually determined by taking an MRI of the injured area. Partial tears, according to FootHealthFacts.org, may be treated with immobilization of the ankle (either in a case or a brace) and rest. This gives the injured tendon time to heal and prevents further injury. Pain and swelling can be reduced with ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen. A complete tear, on the other hand, usually requires surgery in order to reconnect the severed tendon. Physical therapy is an important part of the recovery for both partial and complete tears as it helps strengthen the weakened muscles and tendon, which helps prevent future injuries.