Limited-Incision Knotless Achilles Tendon Repair

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Acute midsubstance Achilles tendon ruptures, which are increasingly common among athletes, can result in significant functional limitations and decreased quality of life when not managed appropriately. The various surgical techniques for treating Achilles ruptures include open repair with Krackow locking sutures, percutaneous repair, and limited-incision repair with suture-passing jigs. Less invasive techniques have been developed to optimize the functional benefits of surgery while reducing delayed wound healing, infection, and other postoperative complications. An important albeit subjective aspect of Achilles tendon repair is suture knot tying and tensioning around the rupture site. Recently, a limited-incision knotless Achilles tendon repair technique (Achilles Midsubstance SpeedBridge; Arthrex) was developed to minimize soft-tissue dissection, restore musculotendinous length, and directly fix tendon to bone to allow for early mobilization and more rapid functional recovery. The indications, contraindications, details, pearls, and pitfalls of this surgical technique are discussed in this article.



The incidence of midsubstance Achilles tendon ruptures is increasing in patients 30 years to 50 years of age, and more than 50% of these injuries occur during recreational basketball.1,2 Achilles ruptures occur more in deconditioned individuals engaged in explosive push-off and jumping activities. Management of these injuries has been controversial over the past decade; there is no consensus on nonoperative treatment, surgical repair, or optimal repair technique.1,3-7 According to American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) clinical practice guidelines, limited-incision approaches have fewer overall complications relative to traditional open repair.3,4

Modern repair techniques, such as the Percutaneous Achilles Repair System (PARS; Arthrex), combine limited soft-tissue dissection with percutaneous suture insertion and knot tying.1,8 This limited-incision technique, employed since 2010, uses a 2-cm transverse incision and nondisposable metal jig with divergent needle passes and locking suture fixation options to secure and fix both tendon ends with minimal dissection of skin, subcutaneous tissue, and paratenon. A review of 270 surgically treated Achilles tendon ruptures (101 PARS, 169 traditional open repair) found that, compared with the open repair group, the PARS group had significantly shorter operative times and more patients returning to baseline physical activities within 5 months after surgery.1 Although the difference was not statistically significant, the overall postoperative complication rate was 5% for the PARS group and 11% for the open repair group. The PARS group had no cases of sural neuritis or deep infection requiring reoperation.

Although the PARS technique has had good outcomes with few complications, care must be taken during surgery to prevent sutures from pulling through the tendon near the rupture site, which can result from overtensioning and from suture knot irritation against superficial soft tissues. Given these potential issues, the PARS procedure was modified (Achilles Midsubstance SpeedBridge; Arthrex) to provide knotless restoration of musculotendinous length in a reliable, reproducible fashion and direct fixation of tendon to bone for early mobilization.9 This new procedure bypasses suture fixation in the compromised tendon ends adjacent to the rupture site, thereby reducing suture slippage and allowing for potential early range of motion and weight-bearing relative to previous techniques. Preliminary results from a cohort of 34 patients treated with this technique are promising: Average return to baseline activities was 18.2 weeks (range, 9-26 weeks), and there were no wound complications, nerve injuries, or reruptures.9Indications are overall health and an acute midsubstance Achilles rupture that presents within 3 weeks after injury (the time limit is used to ensure that both tendon ends can be mobilized and repaired to appropriate length). A relative contraindication is delayed presentation (≥4 weeks), which may require open reconstruction in combination with V-Y lengthening or other adjuvant procedures. Other relative contraindications are insertional rupture, Achilles tendinopathy, and a significant medical comorbidity that prohibits surgical intervention.

Surgical Technique

Operating Room Setup and Approach

The patient is positioned prone with chest rolls and kneepads and with arms at <90° of abduction (Figures 1A-1E).

Figure 1.
A thigh tourniquet is placed on the operative extremity, and the feet are placed slightly hanging off the end of the bed with a small bump underneath to adjust the degree of ankle plantarflexion and Achilles tension during the case. It is important that the operative leg be in neutral rotation to allow for central positioning of the PARS jig. After sterile preparation and draping, the extremity is exsanguinated and the tourniquet inflated. The defect within the Achilles tendon is palpated and marked out, and a 2-cm transverse skin incision is made along the proximal aspect of the rupture site.

A “no-touch” technique is used without pickups, and soft tissues are carefully dissected with small scissors down to the paratenon. The sural nerve typically is not visible in the operative field, but, if it is, it can be dissected out and retracted out of the way. A transverse incision is made through the paratenon, and expression of rupture hematoma often follows. Paratenon preservation is key in minimizing disruption of the native vascular supply of the tendon and allowing for repair at the end of the case. A freer can be placed within the wound to confirm that the center of the rupture has been identified.

An Allis clamp is inserted into the wound, and the proximal tendon stump is secured and then pulled about 1 cm through the wound. A freer is circumferentially run along the sides of the proximal tendon to release any potential adhesions that may limit distal excursion.

PARS Jig Insertion and Suture Passing

The PARS jig is inserted into the wound with the inner prongs in the narrowest position possible. The curved jig is inserted proximally, and the center turn wheel is used to widen the inner prongs so they can slide along the sides of the tendon in the paratenon. Proper jig placement should be smooth and encounter little resistance. The proximal tendon is in a superficial location and can be palpated within the prongs of the jig to double-check that the tendon is centered within the jig. A frequent error is to insert the jig too deep, which subsequently causes needles and sutures to miss the tendon and pull through.

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