All athletes—from four-year-old soccer players to 300-pound NFL linemen—have at least one thing in common – susceptibility to injury! Even active people who don’t consider themselves “athletes” still have a certain degree of injury risk when exercising or working out.
Given the fact we often rely on our lower limbs to perform physical activity, it makes sense that we treat so many patients for foot and ankle sports injuries. Obviously, no one wants to get hurt, but the good news is most of these injuries can be treated without needing surgical intervention. Even better, there are measures you can take to prevent sports injuries from happening in the first place.
Of course, if you do hurt a foot or ankle while exercising, playing a favorite sport, or even simply moving around while performing daily activities, remember – our team at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona will perform a thorough evaluation of the injury and then create a treatment plan to get you back in the game!
Why Does My Foot or Ankle Hurt After Sports?
The first step in overcoming foot and ankle pain—or resolving any problem, actually—is to determine exactly what is wrong and why it happened. Your lower limbs have lots of moving parts (26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons) and receive tremendous amounts of force, especially from high-impact activities – ones that feature lots of running and jumping.
All of those parts and force can lead to an array of different injuries from physical activity. Some do tend to be more common than others, and these include:
- Ankle sprains. Perhaps the most common of any injury a human can sustain, an ankle becomes sprained when a foot turns too far and stretches supportive ligaments—the tissues that connect bones to other bones—beyond their intended range. Due to their commonality, these injuries are not usually considered to be serious, but this can be a mistake – resuming activity without letting a sprained ankle heal can lead to chronic ankle instability.
- Plantar fasciitis. Ankle sprains might be the most common specific injury, but heel pain is the most common lower limb problem. A contributing factor to this is many different injuries causing pain in the back of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is the leading cause of heel pain for adults, and you will likely recognize this overuse injury if you have severe pain in the bottom of the heel upon waking up.
- Achilles tendinitis. Whereas plantar fasciitis causes pain in the bottom of the heel following extended periods of rest, Achilles tendinitis causes pain in the back of the heel during and following physical activity. The Achilles tendon can become inflamed and injured in response to excessive force loads (whether in a single incident or over time).
- Turf toe. Sports fans usually know this condition can sideline a favorite athlete for at least three weeks (in the very best scenarios), but don’t often understand what has happened. In this case, the ligaments supporting the joint at the base of the big toe—which is essential for pushing off the ground in a dynamic fashion (is performed in countless sports and other physical activities—have been sprained. This typically occurs when the big toe is bent backward too far.
- Bone fractures. The 52 total bones in your feet and ankles constitute one-quarter of all the bones in your body. Lower limbs are subjected to tremendous physical stress and force loads. Combine those two facts, and it’s easy to see how fractures in the lower limbs are a risk for active individuals.
- Stress fractures. This particular injury deserves its own designation separate from other types of fractures. While other broken bones are usually acute injuries, stress fractures are overuse injuries developing over time. These fractures are tiny cracks that develop in the surface of a bone. In spite of their relatively small stature, stress fractures can cause tremendous pain.
Are There Ways to Prevent Sports Injuries?
As mentioned earlier, there are ways to reduce your risk of sustaining foot and ankle sports injuries. Some that are particularly helpful include:
- Condition yourself properly. Don’t jump into a new sport with reckless abandon, or ramp up your running mileage rapidly. Build slowly toward new goals, giving your body a time to condition and adjust.
- Wear appropriate shoes. That means your shoes fit right for your foot size and shape, are designed for the specific activity you’ll be performing (running shoes, basketball shoes, cross-trainers, etc.), and are in good repair. Replace old shoes and consider custom orthotics for sports if chronic pain continues.
- Cross train. If you’re exclusively participating in high-impact endeavors, your feet never get a break. Make sure you take appropriate rest days and cross train in less foot-intense activities like weightlifting, cycling, swimming, or even just walking.
- Listen to your body. Yes, vigorous exercise will stretch you physically, but you should never try to push through pain. If certain activities are leaving you wincing and hobbling, it’s time to see one of our doctors. There may be treatment options, or even simple behavior or equipment modifications, that can help you eliminate the pain.
How Can Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona Help?
The truth of the matter is that even if you follow sports injury prevention measures, it is virtually impossible to eliminate all injury risk. The good news, however, is the fact most foot and ankle sports injuries can be effectively treated with nonsurgical care. Depending on your case, this may include RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), medication, physical therapy, and custom orthotics or other protective equipment.
In those rarer cases when foot or ankle surgery is the best course of treatment, you can take comfort in knowing that our team is staffed with surgical experts. Even if the necessary procedure is extensive or complex, we will create and implement a plan that works for you.
When you sustain any foot or ankle injury—during sports or otherwise—your first step for finding the care you need is to contact Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona. Remember, early intervention is always best. Continuing to perform physical activities on an injured foot or ankle can not only interfere with normal healing processes – it can cause the condition to become worse!
For more information or to request an appointment with either our Chandler or Gilbert offices, call us today at (480) 963-9000. If you’d prefer, you can also take advantage of our online contact form right now.