Foot and ankle pain might be common in active, athletic individuals but that doesn’t mean it can or should be ignored. If left unexamined, mild foot and ankle discomfort could lead to pain that disrupts day-to-day activities, or even lead to a more severe injury. Pain and noticeable discomfort are signs that there could be something wrong. Identifying the site and source of the pain could be the first step to getting back on your feet, pain-free.
Lan Chen, MD, Orthopaedic Surgery at NorthShore, discusses foot and ankle injuries common in the sporty set:
Plantar fasciitis. A common cause of heel pain, plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes, becomes swollen or irritated. The pain is most severe after long periods of rest—first thing in the morning or when climbing stairs—and it typically subsides the more active you are throughout the day. In older individuals, plantar fasciitis is caused by the natural wear and tear of aging. Plantar fasciitis is also a common injury in young athletes and those who spend long periods of time on their feet. Treatment: There is no cure-all for plantar fasciitis. Giving your feet a break, cutting back on exercise or simply changing your shoes could relieve some or all of the pain. Stretching of the ankle and plantar fascia are also very important. If you think you might be suffering from plantar fasciitis, discuss your treatment options with your physician.
Achilles tendonitis. Often an overuse injury, Achilles tendonitis is a swelling of the Achilles tendon, which extends from the heel to the calf muscle. Not stretching before and after physical activity, wearing high heels, or simply having flat feet or fallen arches are all common causes of Achilles tendonitis. Tendonitis pain may be mild to moderate but the pain following an Achilles tendon tear will be sudden and severe. Treatment: If you give it the time and rest it needs, Achilles tendonitis will heal on its own, but make sure to see your physician to determine the extent of the injury. Your doctor will then help you determine the best way to proceed, which could include rest or the use of crutches to keep your weight off the injury.
Stress fracture. Stress fractures are small cracks that develop in the bones of the feet, ankle and legs. For active individuals, they are most often caused by overuse in high-impact sports like distance running (e.g. feet repeatedly hitting the ground). Worn out, unsupportive shoes as well as a sudden increase in physical activity might also be to blame. The most common locations of stress fractures are the second and third metatarsals in the foot, and the bone at the top of the foot called the navicular. Pain from stress fractures will most likely develop gradually, increasing the more you are on your feet and decreasing when at rest. Also look for swelling and bruising at the site of the pain. Treatment: Rest is essential! Ignoring the pain could cause more serious injury, including a complete break of the stress-fractured bone. See your doctor to determine the exact location of the stress fracture; treatment varies depending on the severity and location of a stress fracture.
Turf toe. Common in football players, turf toe is a sprain of the ligaments surrounding the big toe. It’s caused by a hyperextension of the toe, or bending back of the toe beyond the point of normal movement. Injury can occur from a sudden, forceful movement or repeated hyperextensions over a period of time. Pain, swelling and limited movement of the big toe are all indicators of turf toe. Treatment: As with many overuse injuries, rest is best. Depending on the severity of the injury, your doctor might recommend immobilization, either by taping the injured toe to another to relieve the stress on the joint or the use of a cast or boot.
Ankle sprain. With the ice and snow on the ground, ankle sprains are most common in the winter months. Mechanical twisting of the lower leg and ankle can cause simple ankle sprains, which will heal on their own, or high ankle sprains, which can be more serious and require additional stabilization in a cast or boot. Other injuries such as ligament tears, tendon strain and cartilage injuries can all occur in an ankle sprain. Treatment: Most ankle sprains will heal on their own. Resting a short period to allow the initial pain and swelling to subside is common and you may need a brace or boot initially. Chronic pain after an ankle sprain is a clue that there is something else going on. And that’s when it is important to see your doctor right away. Additional imaging and exam might be needed to clarify the situation and physical therapy might come into play.
Have you injured yourself while playing your favorite sport?