Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Achilles tendon injuries

7-minute read

Key facts

  • The Achilles tendon is the thick cord you can feel at the back of your ankle that attaches the calf muscle to the back of your heel.
  • The 2 most common injuries of the Achilles tendon are Achilles tendinopathy (weakness due to tiny tears in the tendon) or sudden rupture (break or tear) of the tendon.
  • Achilles tendon injuries can cause pain, swelling, weakness and reduced movement at the back of your ankle.
  • To diagnose a tendon injury, your doctor will examine you and ask about your symptoms and may refer you for an ultrasound or x-ray.
  • Most Achilles tendon injuries do not need surgery — see your doctor for a treatment plan, which may involve physiotherapy.

What are Achilles tendon injuries?

The Achilles tendon (often simply called the ‘Achilles’) is the thick cord you can feel at the back of your ankle. It attaches the calf muscle to the back of your heel.

The 2 most common injuries of the Achilles tendon are:

  • Acute rupture (break): a complete or partial tear that occurs when the tendon is stretched beyond its natural range.
  • Achilles tendinopathy (previously known as ‘tendinitis’ or ‘tendonitis’): a chronic (long-term) condition that causes weakness and breakdown of the Achilles tendon, due to a series of very small tears (also known as ‘tendinosis’).
An illustration showing the various types of Achilles tendon problems.
An illustration showing the various types of Achilles tendon problems.

What are the symptoms of Achilles tendon injuries?

The symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy include:

  • mild to severe pain and tenderness in the Achilles tendon area
  • weakness or stiffness at the back of your heel (the stiffness may be more noticeable in the morning and get better as the tendon warms up with use)
  • swelling
  • decreased strength and movement

If you partially tear your Achilles, it can feel like tendinopathy. If you completely tear or rupture your Achilles, it can feel like a kick or hit to the back of the ankle. You might have trouble walking.

If you have pain under the heel, it is usually not an Achilles tendon problem.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes Achilles tendon injuries?

Achilles tendinopathy is caused by excessive loading of the Achilles tendon. Causes include:

  • a sudden increase in physical activity, or less recovery time between activities
  • wearing unsupportive shoes
  • running on hard or uneven surfaces
  • tight or weak calf muscles
  • not enough warm up

Achilles tendon rupture can be due to:

  • forceful jumping or pivoting
  • sudden bursts of running
  • falling or tripping
  • illness or medicines, such as steroids or certain antibiotics, that weaken the tendon (less common)

Achilles tendon ruptures are common and are most often seen in middle aged people who play high-energy sport in their spare time.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are having pain, weakness, stiffness, swelling or reduced movement at the back of your heel, you may have an Achilles tendon injury so see your doctor for a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

If you were previously diagnosed with an Achilles tendon injury, and have followed your doctor’s treatment plan but you are still in pain, go back and ask your doctor or physiotherapist for more advice.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How are Achilles tendon injuries diagnosed?

To diagnose a tendon injury, your doctor or physiotherapist will examine you and ask about your symptoms. You may need an ultrasound or other scan such as an x-ray or MRI to help diagnose the problem, but this is often not needed.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How are Achilles tendon injuries treated?

If you think you may have hurt your Achilles tendon, it is a good idea to stop any activity and carry out the RICER treatment for 2 to 3 days:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation
  • Referral for treatment (see your doctor)

Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicines to help manage your pain. Most Achilles tendon injuries can be treated without surgery.

Depending on the type of injury, your doctor or physiotherapist may advise you to:

  • keep your weight off your ankle (for example, by using crutches)
  • do stretching and strengthening exercises
  • tape your foot and heel
  • use orthotics (specially designed inserts placed into a shoe)

How can Achilles tendon injuries be prevented?

You can help protect your Achilles tendons by:

  • wearing supportive shoes
  • warming up and stretching before and after exercise
  • gradually building up your level of physical activity
  • resting between workouts
  • doing exercises that strengthen your calf muscles

What are the complications if I rupture (tear) my Achilles?

If your Achilles is completely torn, you should see a doctor or go to a fracture clinic as soon as possible. Treating the injury quickly will reduce your risk of long-term damage or weakness. Your doctor may recommend you wear a specially fitted boot to reduce and control how your ankle moves while your tendon heals.

In some situations, you may need surgery to repair your torn Achilles tendon, but for most people, this is not needed.

Some people need a program of rehabilitation that can last for 4 months or longer.

Resources and support

Call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for more information and advice.

For more information about the causes, diagnosis and management of Achilles heel injuries, visit Sports Medicine Australia

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Achilles tendinitis -

Achilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon. It can be caused by overly tight calf muscles and excessive uphill or downhill running, amongst other things.

Read more on myDr website

Leg (knee to ankle) - superficial posterior view -

View the calf muscles and achilles tendon in this illustration of the lower leg.

Read more on myDr website

Achilles tendinopathy - Better Health Channel

People who run regularly seem to be susceptible to Achilles tendonitis

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Heel pain - plantar fasciitis -

Heel pain is most commonly caused by plantar fasciitis, a chronic overuse injury of the thick band of tissue on the sole of the foot, known as the plantar fascia.

Read more on myDr website

Sever's disease (children) — Arthritis Australia

Sever’s disease causes pain in the bone at the back of the heel

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Calf strain or tear -

Calf strain or tear is caused by overstretching or tearing of either of the 2 calf muscles. It usually starts with sudden pain in the back of the leg.

Read more on myDr website

Search Physiotherapy Choices

To search for evidence about physiotherapy for a specific problem, select an appropriate term to complete the following statements.

Read more on PEDro – Physiotherapy Evidence Database website

Shoulder impingement syndrome -

Shoulder impingement syndrome is caused by pinching of the supraspinatus tendon and bursa between the upper arm bone and roof of the shoulder.

Read more on myDr website

Paronychia -

Paronychia is an inflammation of the skin bordering a fingernail or toenail. This inflammation can be classified as acute or chronic, depending on your symptoms, the cause of the inflammation and how long you have had it.

Read more on myDr website

Sever's disease - Better Health Channel

Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain, particularly in the young and physically active.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.