Annals of Orthopedics and Rheumatology

The Epidemiology of Tendo Achilles Rupture: A Regional Perspective

Research Article | Open Access

  • 1. Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, Ulster Hospital Dundonald, UK
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Corresponding Authors
Gavin Heyes, Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, Ulster Hospital Dundonald, Apartment 1001, 70 Chichester Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland BT1 4JQ. UK

Epidemiology, Tendo, Achilles, Rupture


TA: Tendo Achilles


The Tendo Achilles (TA) is the strongest tendon in the body yetit is also the most frequently ruptured [1,2]. Despite this there are currently only a few epidemiological studies evaluating the events leading up to TA rupture [3-6]. Recently studies have found that the incidence of TA rupture in industrial nations is increasing [4-9]. Many find it is due to a rise in recreational sporting activity; however epidemiological data is skewed by a propensity to capture data from sporting injury only rather than also including data concerning general population TA ruptures [3,10-12].

Many factors have been identified that may precipitate rupture. Those given local steroid injections may be at increased risk as they have been reported to speed up the degenerative process through fibroblast suppression and growth inhibition [13-14].Other associated factors reported are; alcohol, anabolic steroids, systemic corticosteroids, antihypertensives, fluoroquinolones, eye drops, diuretics, cocaine, marijuana, gout, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hyperparathyroidism and systemic lupus erythematosus [15-24]. Racial differences have also been implicated following the observation of a greater prevalence of TA rupture in African American service men [25].

We have the opportunity to report epidemiological data from a single TA clinic, which predominantly serves the South East Health and Social Care Trust of Northern Ireland estimated at over 350 000 inhabitants [26].We collected data from 1996 to 2008 inclusive.


S Data was collected retrospectively by review of consecutive patient notes. All those suspected to have a TA rupture were referred by local Accident and Emergency units directly to our clinic. The diagnosis was made by our senior author (RGHW) and based specifically on history, classical bruising and a palpable gap in the tendon with no plantar flexion of the ankle produced on the calf-squeeze test. All confirmed TA ruptures were included in this study regardless of whether they were acute, chronic, unilateral, bilateral or recurrent ruptures.

Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS v20 (IBM, USA). Pearson correlation coefficients and binary logistic regression methods were used to analyze the data and a p value of <0.05 was regarded as significant.




1044 patients were referred to the unit during the study time frame. Of those, 69 (6.6%) were misdiagnoses; including Achilles tendonitis, calf muscle tear, tear of adhesions, plantar fasciitis and muscle strain. In total there was 975 confirmed TA ruptures managed over the 13 year period.

There were 712 male ruptures (73%) and 263 female ruptures (27%), demonstrating a 3:1 ratio. Five patients presented with bilateral ruptures and 5 patients had ruptures on the contralateral side following a previous injury. There were 509 left sided ruptures (52.5%) and 461 right sided ruptures (47.5%), which demonstrated no statistical difference (p=0.126). The mean annual incidence of ruptures was 75. A total of 117 patients (12.1%) presented to hospital 14 or more days following injury. The literature refers to these patients as delayed presenters [27].

Figure 1 demonstrates the annual incidence of TA rupture compared to mean annual incidence, incidence per 100 000 persons and linear progression of the study period. The incidence per 100 000 was calculated using census information for the hospital catchment area over the study period [28]. The correlation co-efficient was 0.92 demonstrating good correlation between year and increasing incidence. The mean age appears to be static during the study period.

The range of patient age during rupture was between 12-86 years, with an overall mean of 48 years. Table 1 demonstrates a significant difference in the age of those who rupture during sporting activity and those who ruptured during non-sporting activity. Male patients presented with TA ruptures at a younger age than females, however this was not found to be significant.

Figure 2 represents the age distribution of TA ruptures including subdivisions for sporting and non sporting mechanism of injury. The age range distribution demonstrates positive skew of Overall and Sporting age groups towards 40-49 and 50-59 age groups. All other injury mechanisms follow a normal distribution with no evidence of skew. Figure 3 demonstrates the Mechanism of TA rupture and Figure 4 demonstrates associated illnesses and other factors that may have contributed to rupture.

Our incidence of TA rupture is increasing each year, this has been observed in other European countries and New Zealand [4- 6,11,12]. The peak decade for ruptures in our sporting group is 40-49 years and in the non sporting group 60-69 years. Overall peak incidence remains in the 40-49 years age group. Our results demonstrate a similar age of rupture to other European countries [2,11,12,29].

Normal TA tendons can withstand a load of 400kg, therefore many hypothesised that in order to rupture either a huge force to the tendon is required or a degenerative process must be present to weaken the tendon at time of rupture [30]. It has also been reported that up to 33% of people have a prodrome of posterior ankle pain prior to rupture, this may be a herald sign of an active degenerative process and impending rupture [30]. Subsequently this has been confirmed by the presence of chronic inflammatory cells and degenerative tissue on histopathological testing. This finding is also felt to be more common as age progresses and while patients are still active they are at particular risk of rupture [7,30-34].

In those who participate in sport, incidence is highest where frequent explosive push off is required, for example badminton, tennis, squash, rugby and football. This reflects findings in other studies which also report sports with regular vigorous leg push off as a peak cause of injury [11,12,35].Identifying a single sport that is consistently a peak cause of rupture in the literature is not possible as regional and national pastimes differ in each region [35].

Our results represent data from a large TA clinic serving the South East Health and Social Services Trust. According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency census results each trust has similar rates of migration, co-morbid illness, death rates, age of death and cause of death. Northern Ireland has no clear data on sports club membership, rate or frequency of sporting activity within trusts, however given the census findings it could be assumed that our data is also representative of Northern Ireland as a whole [28].

Included on our results were two children aged 12 and 14 years. These patients were otherwise fit and well with no underlying medical comorbidity prior to TA rupture. TA ruptures at this age is uncommon and has only been mentioned in case reports [36].

Several associated factors recognized in the literature were identified within the co-morbid illnesses of those who sustained TA ruptures. Steroid use was the most prominent co morbid risk factor and it is well recognised in the literature for its association with tendon injuries [29].

Table 1: Mena age of rupture by mechanism of injury and gender.

Age distribution of TA ruptures Mean Age P value (age)
Sporting activity 42.8 0.007
Non sporting Activity 53.5
Male 48 0.12
Female 49

Abbreviations: TA: Tendo Achilles


The data in this study highlights at risk individuals as those in the 5th decade who participate in sport. Overall the incidence of TA rupture is increasing each year. Rupture occurs more frequently in males. Results reflect those reported in countries with similar temperate climate and population demographics as Northern Ireland [4-6,36].


1. Khan RJK, Fick D, Brammar T J, Angus Keogh, Richard L Carey Smith. Surgical interventions for treating acute Achilles tendon ruptures (Review). The Cochrane Collaboration. The Cochrane Library, 2007.

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4. Houshian S, Tscherning T, Riegels-Nielsen P. The epidemiologies of Achilles tendon rupture in a Danish county. Injury. 1998; 29: 651-654.

5. Maffulli N, Waterston SW, Squair J, Reaper J, Douglas AS. Changing incidence of Achilles tendon rupture in Scotland: a 15-year study. Clin J Sport Med. 1999; 9: 157-160.

6. Nyyssönen T, Lüthje P, Kröger H. The increasing incidence and difference in sex distribution of Achilles tendon rupture in Finland in 1987-1999. Scand J Surg. 2008; 97: 272-275.

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20. Royer RJ, Pierfitte C, Netter P. Features of tendon disorders with fluoroquinolones. Therapie. 1994; 49: 75-76.

21. Mahoney PG, James PD, Howell CJ, Swannell AJ. Spontaneous rupture of the Achilles tendon in a patient with gout. Ann Rheum Dis. 1981; 40: 416-418.

22. Sobel E, Giorgini R, Hilfer J, Rostkowski T. Ossification of a ruptured achilles tendon: a case report in a diabetic patient. J Foot Ankle Surg. 2002; 41: 330-334.

23. Matsumoto K, Hukuda S, Nishioka J, Asajima S. Rupture of the Achilles tendon in rheumatoid arthritis with histologic evidence of enthesitis. A case report. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1992; : 235-240.

24. Jones N, Kjellstrand CM. Spontaneous tendon ruptures in patients on chronic dialysis. Am J Kidney Dis. 1996; 28: 861-866.

25. Owens B, Mountcastle S, White D. Racial differences in tendon rupture incidence. Int J Sports Med. 2007; 28: 617-620.

26. The population of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

27. Wallace RG, Heyes GJ, Michael AL. The non-operative functional management of patients with a rupture of the tendo Achillis leads to low rates of re-rupture. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2011; 93: 1362-1366.

28. The catchment area of South East Health and Social Services trust. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

29. Dean BJ, Lostis E, Oakley T, Rombach I, Morrey ME, Carr AJ. The risks and benefits of glucocorticoid treatment for tendinopathy: a systematic review of the effects of local glucocorticoid on tendon. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2014; 43: 570-576.

30. Arner O, Lindholm A, Orell SR. Histologic changes in subcutaneous rupture of the Achilles tendon; a study of 74 cases. Acta Chir Scand. 1959; 116: 484-490.

31. Waterston SW. Histochemistry and biochemistry of Achilles tendon ruptures. B. Med Sci. [dissertation]. University of Aberdeen, Scotland. 1997; 1-97.

32. Davidsson L, Salo M. Pathogenesis of subcutaneous tendon ruptures. Acta Chir Scand. 1969; 135: 209-212.

33. Lagergren C, Lindholm A. Vascular distribution in the Achilles tendon; an angiographic and microangiographic study. Acta Chir Scand. 1959; 116: 491-495.

34. Hastad K, Larsson LG, Lindholm A. Clearance of radiosodium after local deposit in the Achilles tendon. Acta Chir Scand. 1959; 116: 251- 255.

35. Kristensen JK, Andersen PT. Rupture of the Achilles tendon: a series and a review of literature. J Trauma. 1972; 12: 794-798.

36. Tumilty S. Achilles Tendon Rupture: Rising Incidence In New Zealand Follows International Trends. Physical Therapy reviews. 2007; 12: 59-65.


We report regional epidemiological data for Tendo Achilles rupture over a 13 year period in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland.

Materials and Methods: We performed a retrospective review of 1044 patient referred between the periods of 1996 to 2008 inclusive.

Results: 975 (93.4%) patients were confirmed as having a Tendo Achilles rupture, with a mean incidence of 75 Tendo Achilles ruptures per year. We found a 3:1 ratio in Male vs. Female ruptures respectively. The average age of rupture was 48 years. Patients with ruptures from sport were significantly younger than those who ruptured from non-sporting means, 42.8 and 53.5 years respectively. Most common sporting injuries were from rugby, football and racquet sport. Co morbid illness such as cardiovascular disease, steroid use and diabetes appear to be associated with rupture.

Conclusion: The data in this study highlights at risk individuals as those who are male, in their 5th decade and who participate in sport particularly activities with regular vigorous leg push off.


Heyes G, Tucker A, Michael A, Wallace R (2014) The Epidemiology of Tendo Achilles Rupture: A Regional Perspective. Ann Orthop Rheumatol 2(2): 1017.

Received : 23 Feb 2014
Accepted : 05 May 2014
Published : 08 May 2014
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