Tendons are the fibrous tissue bands that attach muscles to bones in the human body. They can bear forces that are sometimes more than 5-times your body weight.
While your tendons are quite tough, in some instances, they may rupture or snap. Several conditions can also lead to snapped tendons.
What Causes Snapped Tendons?
A snapped tendon can be caused by an injury or a sudden pressure on the tendon due to accidents or falls. Tendons can also get injured due to eccentric loading – when a muscle contracts while being stretched in the opposite direction. This puts a lot of excessive stress on the tendons.
Apart from direct trauma, snapped tendons can also be caused by other conditions, including weakness in the tendon (due to advanced age or conditions such as tendonitis or arthritis). Other causes include gout or hyperparathyroidism, injection of steroids into the tendon or even certain medications.
Common Types of Snapped Tendon Injuries
Snapped tendons are not very common. But when they do occur, they can cause serious problems and excruciating pain. If left untreated, they can even lead to a permanent disability.
Depending on where it occurs, each type of tendon injury has its own signs & symptoms. These injuries will need to be treated depending on the severity of the rupture – either medically or through rehabilitation.
Here are the four areas where a snapped tendon injury is more likely to occur:
Your quadriceps (also known as the quads) consists of a group of four muscles that join together just above your kneecap. These muscles help in actions like walking, running or jumping. The tendon connecting these muscles is known as the patellar tendon.
Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel. It is located just above the heel. It helps in pushing off with the foot (e.g. during a race). It also enables you to stand on your toes (while tiptoeing or stretching).
Your rotator cuff is located in your shoulder. It is composed of four muscles that work together to help with raising or rotating your arm. The rotator cuff tendon also prevents your shoulder from popping out of its socket.
This is one of the most common areas where tendon injuries occur. Some studies have shown that 8% to 20% of the population have had rotator cuff tears at some point in their lives. There is also evidence of a higher incidence of these injuries with advancing age.
The biceps muscle helps in the movement of the hand – especially in bending the hand at the elbow – by acting as a flexor of the elbow.
The Symptoms of a snapped tendon
How will you know if you have a tendon rupture? Well, if you’ve had an injury in any of the areas mentioned above and experience any of the following symptoms, it may indicate a tendon rupture:
- You hear/feel a snap or pop
- You experience severe pain
- You notice rapid bruising or swelling in the area
- You experience marked weakness in the area
- You are unable to move that area or use the affected leg or arm
- Your arm or leg is unable to bear weight
- You notice a deformity of that area.
Here are a few more area-specific signs that may indicate a ruptured tendon:
- In the case of an Achilles tendon rupture, you will find it challenging to support yourself on your tiptoes on the affected leg.
- In the case of a Rotator cuff rupture, you will be unable to lift your arm out to the side.
- If it’s a Biceps tendon rupture, you will find it difficult to flex your elbow and experience a decreased ability to raise the particular arm out to the side palm up.
Things to do right away in case of a snapped tendon
Regardless of where the snapped tendon is, the first thing to do is to follow PRICE therapy:
- Protect your injury
- Rest the affected area
- Ice the area- use the 20:20 rule – 20 minutes on & 20 minutes off
- Compress the ankle/limb using an Ace wrap; this helps reduce swelling
- Elevate the foot to minimise the swelling
Ideally, this should be done at home even before you seek medical help. The things to focus on as the first line of treatment for snapped tendons are:
The injured part should be kept elevated if possible. The best way to reduce swelling is to keep the area above your heart level, as this helps minimise the swelling.
If you have a quadriceps rupture, immobilise it with a straight knee (extended) position.
In case of biceps rupture, a sling should be used to immobilise it (the elbow should be bent at 90°).
Take anti-inflammatory medicine and consume a diet that lowers inflammation. NSAIDs can help reduce swelling and pain. But these should be taken as indicated on the label.
In the case of snapped tendons, you must seek help from an orthopaedic professional. The doctor will confirm the tear via ultrasound imaging or an MRI. These images will help the doctor ascertain the extent and severity of the tear.
Surgery or Non-Operative Treatment?
The type of treatment – surgery or a non-surgical intervention – has to be determined based on the location & severity of the injury.
If it’s just a partial rupture, non-operative treatment may be all that’s needed. The only drawback of this treatment is that the part may not regain its original strength. However, the recovery time is shorter, and there is a lesser risk of infection.
A more severe injury may require surgery. Surgical repair, in combination with physical therapy, can help the part return to its normal strength.
Physical Rehabilitation and Prevention of Snapped Tendons
Based on the diagnosis of your injury, the orthopaedist will create an appropriate treatment plan. You will also have to go through a physical rehabilitation plan to manage the injury. The type of physical rehab routine you go through will depend on the nature of the tear and where it has taken place – in the quadriceps, Achilles tendon, Rotator cuff, or Biceps.
Rehabilitation will usually include stretching and range of motion exercises based on which tendons have been injured. The mobility exercises are primarily geared towards maintaining flexibility, strength and range of motion.
Since rehabilitation is key to your recovery, you must go to a well-established sports recovery centre. A qualified physical therapist can guide and help you with different stretches and exercises.
For years, we at Paramount Health have been helping people recover from both sports and lifestyle injuries. Our highly trained experts will help you recover from your injury and avoid similar injuries in the future.
Remember, injuries can happen at any time. Our primary goal is to make sure that you recover as quickly as possible and get on with your everyday life.
We will also help you avoid future tendon injuries, not just by treating the problem. We will also show you how you can avoid actions/ situations that can cause snapped tendons.
If you need help with snapped tendons or just need more information, feel free to get in touch with us either through our contact page or call us on (02) 9719 2060.