Achilles Tendinopathy and Achilles tendon partial and full thickness rupture

Ross A. Hauser, MD., Danielle R. Steilen-Matias, MMS, PA-C

Achilles Tendinopathy and Achilles tendon partial tears and full-thickness ruptures

Here is what we are covering in this article.

A patient will come into our clinics and tell a story we have heard many times before and one that may sound very familiar to you. It goes something like this . . .

One day, out of nowhere, I developed a tightness in the back of my ankle. I did some stretches, the tightness went away. I thought it was just one of those spasms I get occasionally and thought I had taken care of it. The next day the tightness in the back of my ankle returned and it stayed. I thought I could run through it but my problem was getting worse and worse. I went to my doctor, we did an MRI, it showed Achilles tendon damage.

After a few months, my walking improved to the point I could jog again.

Then the tightness came back.

Almost two years into this my doctors are recommending surgery. They will go in and scrape down my Achilles and repair what they can. They tell me the recovery time is a year and they cannot guarantee success.

Prolotherapy and PRP: An introduction to non-surgical regenerative injection options

Prolotherapy is a regenerative injection technique that stimulates the repair of injured tissue. We inject in around an Achilles tear or degenerated tendon to create new healthy, regenerated tissue and get athletes and runners back to their activities.

In 2016, Caring Medical published our review of Prolotherapy in the journal: Clinical Medicine Insights Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disorders. (1) Here we wrote:

Most people that we see in the office for Achilles tendon tear or degeneration have not had success with typical treatments such as anti-inflammatories or standard immobilizing. People who do end up in our office for evaluation of Achilles tendon degeneration and tears heal very well Prolotherapy. This is documented in the research below.

Sometimes we may have to differentiate the treatment based on the type of injury. We can inject dextrose into a degenerative tendon and regenerate tissue but if we’re trying to essentially glue back fibers from a more significant tear, we get healing factor cells from the patient. This would be platelet rich plasma or PRP cells that come from the patient’s own blood. These cells are injected into the tendon using ultrasound guidance. We may also recommend immobilization to the area. Immobilization is usually not ideal because tendons need motion to heal, however, the exception to that is when we are putting PRP or Prolotherapy in the tendon and we are trying to heal that tendon from more significant damage, then immobilization is sometimes necessary.

A brief discussion of ultrasound diagnose and Prolotherapy treatments for Achilles tendon problems

A transcript summary and explanatory notes are below the video.

Danielle R. Steilen-Matias, MMS, PA-C.

Prolotherapy treatment for Achilles tendon problems

The treatment begins at 1:30

Understanding Chronic Achilles tendon injuries

Injury to the Achilles tendon increases with age and overuse. That has been clearly and well documented in the medical literature. While age and overuse make athletes and active people predisposed to injury, many patients will come into our office and describe an onset of pain that can be traced to a new and sudden burst in activity (a new exercise program). In many cases this acute injury has occurred from chronic wear and tear – the tendon has finally torn sufficiently enough to be considered an acute injury.

In chronic Achilles tendon injuries:

Noninsertional Achilles Tendinitis and Insertional Achilles Tendinitis

In both conditions, the tendon seeks a way to stabilize itself and the heel-ankle complex area. It does so by calcifying (hardening) and by forming bone spurs on the heel.

Chronic Recalcitrant (Difficult to treat) Achilles Tendinopathies and Prevention of Achilles tendon rupture: Introducing Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy

We do see many patients who have had failed Platelet Rich Plasma treatments. One of the reasons for the failure is not adequate treatment. PRP is usually not a single miracle injection. We will explain this below.

Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy is an autologous derivative of whole blood that contains a supraphysiological (greater than the normal amount) concentration of platelets. You can learn more about this treatment here What is Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy?

Doctors writing in the Journal of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine have made the case that platelet rich plasma injections awaken and stimulate native stem cells to repair Achilles tendon damage. Here are the bullet points:

What does this mean to the patient?

In addition to the research cited above, another Italian research team evaluated the long-term clinical outcome in patients affected by mid-portion Chronic Recalcitrant Achilles Tendinopathies (CRAT) treated with administration of single platelet-rich plasma (PRP).

A total of 73 patients age 43 years old predominantly males had 83 tendons treated with a single PRP injection. They were then evaluated using standard scoring systems.

Here are their results

Therefore the conclusion: The use of a single PRP injection can, therefore, be a safe and attractive alternative in the treatment of non-insertional CRATs.(5)

Achilles tendon degeneration is helped with PRP Prolotherapy. After trying a variety of other treatment methods, this patient was able to have their Achilles tendon restored to full function. 

Achilles tendon degeneration is helped with PRP Prolotherapy. After trying a variety of other treatment methods, this patient was able to have their Achilles tendon restored to full function.

Prolotherapy for Achilles tear and tendinopathy

Researchers have shown the effectiveness and safety of Prolotherapy injections for the management of lower limb tendinopathy and fasciopathy. In the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research

The doctors were looking to identify and evaluate existing research to determine the clinical effectiveness and safety of Prolotherapy injections for the treatment of lower limb tendinopathy and fasciopathy.

In an April 2017 study, doctors writing in the Scandinavian journal of medicine and science in sports reported positive results in 12 of 13 research studies for achieving pain relief and patient satisfaction for patient’s receiving Prolotherapy on chronic painful Achilles tendinopathy.(7)

Prolotherapy injections show significant clinical results in study

Researchers from London Independent Hospital and Queen Mary University of London examined intra-tendinous Achilles tear (A tear within the tendon). They also examined Prolotherapy as a treatment for this tear, which they write “involves injecting an irritant, such as hyperosmolar dextrose, to stimulate a tissue healing response and ultimately reduce pain.”

In their study, 43 patients with an intra-tendinous tear were given Prolotherapy injections A 4-6 week period of walking boot immobilization was followed by progressive rehabilitation (6-8 weeks).

Prolotherapy researcher John Lyftogt MD reported positive results in two studies published in the Australian Musculoskeletal Medicine Journal, for chronic Achilles tendinopathy (average length of symptoms two years) with subcutaneous dextrose Prolotherapy.(9,10)

In 2007, Canadian researchers published a study on the use of hyperosmolar dextrose prolotherapy (25%) to treat 32 patients representing 33 tendons with chronic tendinosis of the Achilles. At an average of 12 months after treatment, 20 patients remained symptom-free, nine experienced only mild symptoms, and one patient reported moderate symptoms. (11)

This was supported by research published in 2010 which showed the results of Prolotherapy in 99 patients with long-term pain related to the Achilles tendon. Patients received an average of five injection sessions spaced on average 5.6 weeks apart. A statistically significant improvement in pain scores was observed for both midportion and insertional in mean percent reduction in pain at 28 month follow-up. (12)

This research supported that of a paper published in 2009 that Prolotherapy and eccentric loading exercises for painful Achilles Tendon provided great improvements in the patient’s condition. (13)

For patients who have already received steroid injections or surgery for Achilles tendinopathy, but still have pain, Prolotherapy and Platelet Rich Plasma Injections may be a good regenerative treatment to consider to improve the entire heel, Achilles, ankle complex, especially with tight Achilles tendon pain that may be causing Equinus a condition that limits the motion of the ankle.

Can stem cells repair Achilles tendon damage?

When there is advanced tearing or more damage to the Achilles tendon, in addition to PRP discussed above, stem cell therapy may be introduced. We do want to point out that the use of stem cell injections is usually considered after PRP and Prolotherapy injections. Why? Because the PRP and Prolotherapy injections can deliver as good, even superior results at considerably less expense. This is based on our observations in treating thousands of patients.

Researchers in South Korea also examined adipose stem cell therapy in a new study from March 2017. Writing in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the Korean doctors found:

A September 2019 study in the journal Stem Cells International (16) examined the effect of stem cell therapy, PRP therapy and a combined approach in 41 Rats with chemically induced achilles tendon damage. The researcher reported that PRP and stem cells plus PRP yielded better biomechanical results than eccentric training, showing that these treatments offer better tend function outcomes.” These results were achieved in rats and clearly, as the researchers themselves point out, this research simply “opens the door for opportunities to continue this research.” It should not be taken as definitive that it would help in humans.

Ruptured Achilles Tendon

Achilles tendon ruptures can take on many types. There can be a partial rupture or a complete rupture. The Achilles with a rupture can still be intact – it could also be “totally gone.”

Doctors writing in the medical journal Lancet examined the use of Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy for patients with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The findings reveal that locally applied PRP accelerated healing based on cellularity (the number of cells) and glycosaminoglycans (an amino sugar in hyaluronic acid or chondroitin sulfate useful in healing) content were significantly higher in PRP-treated tendons than in controls.(17)

Realistic expectations of stem cells and platelet-rich plasma treatments and a ruptured Achilles tendon

Stem cell therapy is the injection of stem cells into the damaged Achilles tendon. You can learn more about the treatment here What is Stem Cell Therapy?

In recent research, and as mentioned in the above citations, doctors in Turkey, bone marrow-derived stem cells (MSCs these are stem cells taken in a simple aspiration procedure from the iliac crest of the pelvis or from abdominal fat) promoted the recovery of the ruptured Achilles tendon and increase its structural strength.

The doctors concluded:

Treatment following Achilles Tendon Surgery

Spanish researchers writing in the medical journal Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy used animal models to examine the biomechanical effects of intra-tendinous injections of Platelet Rich Growth Factors on the healing Achilles tendon after surgical repair. The researchers found that Platelet Rich Growth Factors increased Achilles tendon repair strength at eight weeks compared with the use of placebo.(19)

There have been numerous studies testing the validity of the use of Platelet Rich Plasma during open surgery. These studies have led some to question whether or not PRP can help with post-surgical rehabilitation if applied at the time of surgery.

One of the big problems with studies on PRP or stem cell enhancements at the time of surgery is the problem of dilution.(21) In our article on arthroscopic knee surgery for osteoarthritis, I came upon a study that found that during surgery, surgical dyes, irrigation fluids, and other liquids forced into the repair area significantly diluted healing agents during surgery and more importantly post-surgery.

PRP in Achilles Tendon Surgery

However, doctors writing in the medical journal Foot and Ankle Specialists said:

Treatment protocols with PRP have been performed in 2 ways- administered adjunctively during tendon surgery and as a stand-alone injection (please see our article What is Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy?)

The senior researcher had utilized PRP by both methods to treat Achilles tendinopathy over a 7 year period. Twenty-six patients were followed, half having undergone Achilles tendon surgery in combination with PRP administration and the other half PRP injections alone.

Both the stand-alone injection group and surgical/injection groups had statistically significant degrees of improvement in pre-MRI and post-MRI imaging studies. There was no statistically significant difference between the 2 treatment groups.(22)

PRP did help in surgery and helped equally without surgery. This is why seeking a consultation with a doctor experienced in the varied PRP, stem cells, and a comprehensive Prolotherapy approach can offer the patient more options pre and post-surgery for enhanced and accelerated Achilles repair.

One note on immobilization 

In stark contradiction to the Rice, Ice, Compress, Elevate theory in managing post-surgical treatment, doctors in August of 2016 published their research that functional weight-bearing mobilization enhanced the early healing response of Achilles tendon recovery. In addition, early ankle range of motion was improved without the risk of Achilles tendon elongation (laxity and instability) and without altering long-term functional outcome.(23)

In this article, we have shown that Prolotherapy, PRP Prolotherapy, and Stem Cell Prolotherapy can be viable options for your Achilles tendon problems. If you have any questions about your specific case, our team would be happy to talk with you and see if you are a candidate for our clinics.

Do you have a question about tendon damage and repair?  Get help and information from Caring Medical

1 Hauser RA, Lackner JB, Steilen-Matias D, Harris DK. A Systematic Review of Dextrose Prolotherapy for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain. Clinical Medicine Insights Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2016;9:139-159. doi:10.4137/CMAMD.S39160. [Google Scholar]
2. Willy RW, Halsey L, Hayek A, Johnson H, Willson JD. Patellofemoral Joint and Achilles Tendon Loads During Overground and Treadmill Running. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Aug;46(8):664-72. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2016.6494. Epub 2016 May 12. [Google Scholar]
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9. Lyftogt J. Prolotherapy and Achilles tendinopathy: a prospective pilot study of an old treatment. Australian Musculoskeletal Medicine Journal. 2005;10:16-19.  [Google Scholar]
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12. Ryan M, Wong A, Taunton J. Favorable outcomes after sonographically guided intratendinous injection of hyperosmolar dextrose for chronic insertional and midportion achilles tendinosis. American Journal of Roentgenology. 2010 Apr;194(4):1047-53. [Google Scholar]
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15 Usuelli FG, Grassi M, Maccario C. Intratendinous adipose-derived stromal vascular fraction (SVF) injection provides a safe, efficacious treatment for Achilles tendinopathy: results of a randomized controlled clinical trial at a 6-month follow-up. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2017 Mar 1. [Google Scholar]
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19 López-Nájera D, Rubio-Zaragoza M, Sopena-Juncosa JJ, et al. Effects of plasma rich in growth factors (PRGF) on biomechanical properties of Achilles tendon repair. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2016 Dec;24(12):3997-4004.[Google Scholar]
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21. Stopka SS, Wilson GL, Pearsall AW. Dilution Effect of Intra-articular Injection Administered After Knee Arthroscopy. Dilution Effect of Intra-articular Injection Administered After Knee Arthroscopy. J Surg Orthop Adv. 2015 Winter;24(4):209-12. [Google Scholar]
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23. Valkering KP, Aufwerber S, Ranuccio F, Lunini E, Edman G, Ackermann PW. Functional weight-bearing mobilization after Achilles tendon rupture enhances early healing response: a single-blinded randomized controlled trial. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2016 Aug 18. [Google Scholar]


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