Objective: To differentiate MR imaging characteristics of symptomatic as compared with asymptomatic Achilles tendons.
Design: 1.5 T MR images of 94 feet (88 patients) with "abnormal" MR examinations were retrospectively evaluated and clinically correlated. Two masked, independent observers systematically evaluated for intratendon T2 signal, tendon thickness, presence of peritendonitis, retrocalcaneal bursal fluid volume, pre-Achilles edema, bone marrow edema at the Achilles insertion, and tears (interstitial, partial, complete). These findings were correlated with symptoms (onset and duration) and physical examination results (tenderness, palpable defects, increased angle of resting dorsiflexion).
Results: Of the 94 ankles, 64 ankles (32 females, 29 males) were clinically symptomatic. No relationship between Achilles tendon disorders and age or gender was identified. Asymptomatic Achilles tendons frequently demonstrated mild increased intratendon signal (21/30), 0.747 cm average tendon thickness, peritendonitis (11/30), pre-Achilles edema (12/30), and 0.104 ml average retrocalcaneal bursal fluid volume. Symptomatic patients had thicker tendons (0.877 cm), greater retrocalcaneal fluid volume (0.278 ml), more frequent tears (23/64), a similar frequency of peritendonitis (22/64) but less frequent pre-Achilles edema (18/64). Sixty-four percent of the Achilles tendon tears were interstitial. Except for two interstitial tears in control patients, the majority of Achilles tears were in symptomatic patients (14/16). Only symptomatic tendons demonstrated partial or complete tendon tears. In addition, calcaneal edema was found almost exclusively in actively symptomatic patients. Thicker tendons were associated more often with chronic symptoms and with tears. When present in symptomatic patients, peritendonitis was usually associated with acute symptoms. The presence of pre-Achilles edema, however, did not distinguish acute from chronic disorders.
Conclusion: There is significant overlap of MR findings in symptomatic and asymptomatic Achilles tendons. Furthermore, there is apparently a spectrum of disease in symptomatic tendons ranging from subtle intratendinous and peritendinous signal to partial and complete tendon tear.