Physical activity is an important key to health and fitness that many of us unfortunately let slide too often. Those who commit themselves, however, can learn discipline and reap a plethora of rewards in the ways they feel and look. With any sort of heightened activity, however, comes risk of injury. This is especially true in our feet and ankles, and part of good discipline in any workout or training program is knowing how to guard yourself against these kinds of sports injuries.
Sports injuries to the feet and ankles can be divided into two categories: those that happen from a sudden force or impact (aka acute injuries), and those that develop due to repetition or overuse.
An acute injury can be caused from a sudden hit, such as a tackle or collision, or an excess amount of force applied to an area that is only designed to move or stretch so far. Common acute injuries include:
Ankle Sprains – A sprain occurs when the ligaments surrounding the ankle joint are overextended or torn. This can happen when the ankle is forced to rotate over its normal range of motion. When a muscle or tendon suffers a similar injury, it is referred to as a strain.
Fractures – A break in a bone, often caused by a high impact. The toes and ankles often bear the brunt of fractures, but any bone can realistically suffer a break.
Turf Toe – This is a sprain of the joint at the base of the big toe, often suffered when the toe is forcefully bent upward. It gets its name for the frequency it happens in field sports, especially when someone is wearing cleats and their foot gets planted in a fixed position against the ground.
An overuse injury can occur when part of the body faces repetitive forces or is worked too hard or too quickly without proper conditioning. Common overuse injuries include:
Stress Fractures – Unlike a standard fracture, a stress fracture creates small cracks along the surface of the bone. Continuing to apply force to the bone often results in pain and can make the cracks worse over time.
Achilles Tendonitis – The tendons that run down the back of the lower leg can become inflamed after a sudden increase of repeated activity. This can create tiny tears in the tendon, which can become progressively worse without treatment or recovery.
Morton’s Neuroma – This is a thickening of nerve tissue at the ball of the foot that is common among runners. The repeated pounding of the feet against hard surfaces can cause irritation and compression of the nerve, leading to sensations of pain, tingling, or numbness.
Black Toenail – Another condition often seen among runners, this is a collection of blood beneath a toenail often caused by the repetitive striking of the nail against the inside of a shoe. The discoloration can be accompanied by a throbbing pain, and sometimes the toenail will fall off.
Treatment for many sports injuries often includes a reduction in the amount of the injury-causing activity, or even rest from it entirely until the injury has had a chance to heal and fully recover. Physical therapy or rehabilitating exercises will also be recommended in many cases to rebuild and recondition the affected area and avoid re-injury. This is especially true in injuries such as ankle sprains, which can lead to long-term pain and instability if they do not heal properly.
The best treatment for sports injuries, however, is avoiding them as best one can in the first place. When starting a new activity, start slowly and gradually work yourself up over a course of weeks until you reach your desired level. Going too hard, too fast can place too much strain on your body before it has been properly conditioned, resulting in injury. Also be sure to use the right equipment for the activity, and always listen to your body: if something starts to hurt, don’t “walk it off.” Stop and rest.
If you have suffered a sports injury to your feet or ankles, or would like advice on the best way to pursue your fitness goals with less risk of injury, call the Bloomington office of Dr. Kevin Powers. We can tailor our treatments to your specific needs and help you get on track quickly and safely. Call us at (812) 333-4422 to schedule an appointment.