Tendons: A Vital Component For Movement
A lot of factors go into body movement. Bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons all work together to help people walk, run, climb, jump, and much more. Tendons are one such element: tough, fibrous tissue that connects muscles to bones. Should a tendon rupture or tear at any time, the results can be painful. Anyone can rupture a tendon at almost any time. In some severe cases, tendon repair surgery is necessary.
Why so torn up?
Torn tendons happen in 2 ways. Surprisingly, most occur due to gradual wear and tear. These are injuries that happen to people who work in jobs or play sports that require repetitive use of hands and shoulders. Others are sudden, acute injuries, common in sports or accidents. For instance, a professional basketball or football player may tear the Achilles tendon, bicep, quadricep, or rotator cuff. Regardless of the cause, there are 4 ways to tell if there is indeed a tendon tear.
1. Did you hear a pop?
Tendons are firmly attached to bones and are pretty resilient to movement. Most people report hearing and feeling a pop or tear. Think of a thick rubber band snapping under maximum tension. The Achilles, rotator cuff, or bicep are tendons that make an audible pop when injured during physical activity.
2. Unbearable pain and swelling
Sharp, intense pain is a common symptom for both acute and gradual injuries. The tendon detaching from the bone is a painful experience. Inflammation soon follows, which can cause swelling and tenderness in the affected area.
3. Out of commission
Tendons help muscles move the connected bone. This movement is especially important for joints that have a set range of motion or ROM. Once the tendon tears, moving the joint through the full ROM is difficult. With a rotator cuff tear, for instance, the arm cannot go to the sides or overhead. Another example is the quadriceps, making the upper leg difficult to move without pain.
4. No more load-bearing activity
Tendons serve another purpose, which is helping the body to manage loads. This load can be supporting bodyweight or lifting objects. Torn ligaments make this action painful and difficult. People with an Achilles tendon tear cannot place bodyweight on the leg or stand on the toes. Lifting objects with a bicep tear is near impossible without treatment. Look for signs of weakness at the limb or near the injury.
Time for surgery
Anyone experiencing these 4 symptoms should see a doctor immediately. The doctor can use imaging and other tests to confirm the extent of the injury. Some tendon ruptures can heal without surgery. However, complete tears will need surgery, particularly if the patient wishes to resume activities. Tendon repair surgery is also necessary if conservative treatment fails.
Let’s get prepped
An orthopedic surgeon is responsible for repairing the tendon. Some surgeons specialize in sports surgeries or specific tendon repairs. A family doctor will recommend the best surgeon for the job. Most surgeries happen at an HOPD or ambulatory surgical center, meaning the patient should be able to leave the same day. After filling out the paperwork, the surgeon and anesthetist will discuss the process in detail. Based on the injury, the patient will be under local or general anesthesia. From there, the surgeon can start working on the tendon.
Stitching things back together
Most repairs happen using minimally invasive means. The doctor will make a small incision to access the injury with an arthroscope. From there, another incision allows the surgeon to insert tools to complete the repair. The tendon is moved back to the correct spot and attached with special stitches. Sometimes, the tendon is damaged beyond repair, requiring a graft or donor’s tendon. Once the repair is over, the patient goes into recovery and could leave the same day once all goes well.
Risk and the road to recovery
With any surgery, there are risks that the surgeon will discuss before the procedure. Infections, bleeding, nerve damage, and muscle weakness after repair are some possible complications. Based on the extent of the injury, recovery can take several months. During recovery, there will be periods of intense treatment, pain management, and physical therapy. Most tendon repairs have a high success rate and can restore function.
Look for the signs and take action
Tendon tears have clear signs. Once the injury happens, identifying these symptoms is vital for a quick recovery. Full-thickness tears often require tendon repair surgery through minimally invasive means. Until the surgery date, non-surgical treatment can help manage the pain. Take action and see a doctor immediately. In due time, the tendon will be back to full strength.