Torn Ligament or Tendon in Foot

By: Dr. Hiram Carrasquillo

What is a Torn Ligament or Tendon in the Foot?

A torn ligament or tendon in the foot is an injury that can limit daily activity.  A ligament is fibrous tissue that connects 2 or more bones together. A tendon connects muscle to bone.  A tear in either can come from trauma or repetitive stress. 

Image of ankle ligaments and tendon in foot Torn ligament or foot tendonFoot and ankle ligaments and foot tendons 

Can You Walk with a Torn Tendon in the Foot?

The quick answer is yes, typically you can walk with a torn ligament or tendon in the foot.  Walking may be painful but you can typically still walk.

For example, the Posterior Tibialis Tendon runs down the back of the shin, behind the middle bump of the ankle (medial malleolus) and to the bottom of the foot.  It is tears, walking is still possible but it will probably hurt. The arch of the foot may not be supported which may lead to increased pain.

A torn tendon on the top of the foot would likely be painful but walking would still be possible.  It is better to be evaluated right away to determine the extent of your injury.  The use of crutches and a walking boot are recommended right away after the injury. 

How Do You Know if You Tore a Tendon in Your Foot?

There are several ways to identify that you may have a torn ligament or tendon in the foot.  These include:

  1. Feel or hear a pop.
  2. Pain.
  3. Bruising.
  4. Decreased strength.
  5. Inability to use the affected leg.
  6. Unable to support weight or weakness.

Ankle Ligaments, Foot Tendons, Torn ankle ligament and tendon in foot injuries are all treated at JOI and JOI Rehab. Image of ankle anatomy

What Does a Foot Tendon Tear Feel Like?

 A torn foot tendon may feel like a rubber band snapping or it may feel like getting kicked in the shin. Dr. Hiram Carrasquillo states that when a tendon tears, the sensation can vary.  

A torn ligament or tendon in the foot will likely feel swollen and achy after the injury.  A torn or strained tendon is not necessarily completely detached.  There can be a partial tear of some of the fibers.  When a tendon tear occurs, the body deposits collagen in the damaged area to attempt to repair the tear. This may lead to an enlarged and tender area on the tendon where it was torn. 

If a tendon is completely torn, it will likely retract and the muscle it is attached to will shorten.  Once a tendon is completely torn, It must be surgically repaired quickly or it may be difficult to stretch it to reach the other end. There usually is less pain if a tendon completely tears because there is no longer stress on the injured area.

Do X-rays Show a Torn Foot Tendon or Ankle Ligaments?

X-Rays are for identifying bone injuries, alignment and fractures.  Tendon and ligament injuries are not usually detected on X-ray.  There may be subtle signs on X-ray but they are not typically.  Some orthopedic physicians will do x-rays with distraction to see the amount of ankle ligaments laxity. 

An MRI is the best type of imaging to detect a tendon or ligament tear. The results would have to match what was found on a clinical exam though. Most strains and sprains do not require an MRI.  MRIs are a costly test and are typically only used if conservative treatment, such as physical therapy does not help.  MRIs may be ordered earlier if obvious defect of a tendon is observed or if there is difficulty establishing a diagnosis.

What Happens if You Tear An Ankle Ligament in Your Foot?

A tear or sprain in a ligament is much more common that a tendon tear in the foot.  Ankle sprains are the most common orthopedic injury.  When you tear a ligament in the foot or ankle, there is usually immediate swelling. You can typically still stand on it.  The severity and number of ligaments involved will impact the swelling and recovery.

Ligaments do not receive much blood supply.  This makes the healing process slower than other injuries. 

If you would like to learn more about ankle sprains, this video may help. 

A torn tendon in foot and ankle ligament sprains are treated at JOI and JOI RehabAnkle Ligament sprain and a foot tendon strain

How do you Fix a Torn Ligament or Tendon in the Foot?

Not all ligament or tendon tears need to be surgically repaired.  Usually, immobilization with a boot or cast  and conservative treatment are appropriate.  Larger tendons and severe ankle ligament tears may require surgery. 

Dr. Carrasquillo is a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. His residency was completed in Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. He completed a post-graduate fellowship in foot and ankle surgery in Cincinnati, OH.  Dr. Carrasquillo is board certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.  Dr. Carrasquillo specializes in the treatment of the foot & ankle, lower leg and general orthopedic surgery at the JOI San Marco office. 

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