As a recreational or professional sports person, whether young or old, you’re likely to get injuries at one point or another. Many sports-related injuries usually happen around the ankle, foot, and knee. This is because it’s the area that connects to the ground and bears the body’s weight and, therefore, the brunt.
The foot comprises muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments that intricately work together to support your weight and propel you through your daily activities. When one part is affected, the rest can’t function properly. Injuries occur when the foot is subjected to chronic overuse, acute trauma, or high-impact activities. Athletes involved in sports that require running and jumping, like basketball, football, gymnastics, and tennis, are at a higher risk of injuries.
To help athletes like you be informed about the common types of foot injuries, below is a brief guide on what they are and how to treat them.
- Plantar Fasciitis
This condition occurs due to the inflammation of the plantar fascia – the tight, thick band of tissue that joins the heel bone to the toes. It’s characterized by a throbbing, stabbing, or dull pain that manifests in the arch or heel of the foot and is tender to the touch. The pain is mostly felt when taking the first steps in the morning after waking up or after prolonged rest periods. Plantar fasciitis develops over time when the plantar fascia absorbs too much stress from foot overuse during activities like running, especially in overweight people. It also affects sports people who wear shoes without proper arch support.
Non-surgical treatment of plantar fasciitis includes:
- Cortisone injections
- Stretching exercises that target the feet and calves.
- Wearing compression bandages.
- Shock wave therapy.
More severe conditions may require surgery. Sports-related foot injuries may result in morbidity, mainly if delayed or inaccurate diagnosis occurs. If you experience chronic arch and heel pain, you can find out more by visiting foot specialists so they can determine and treat your problem.
- Achilles Tendinitis
This ankle and foot condition is prevalent among sports people involved in jumping and running sports activities. It occurs when the Achilles tendon – the tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone – becomes inflamed, ruptured, or breaks.
It can manifest in two ways:
- Non-insertional Achilles Tendinitis
This type of Achilles tendinitis happens when the fibers in the middle area of the tendon break down. The tiny tears cause the leg and heel to swell.
- Insertional Achilles Tendinitis
This type occurs when the tendon attaches itself to the heel bone. Achilles tendinitis is not usually attributed to an injury but more to overuse. It can develop when you abruptly intensify or increase your exercise routine.
The most common symptoms associated with Achilles Tendinitis are:
- Pain at the rear of the heel or the leg
- Developing of bone spurs
- Thicker Achilles tendon
- Stiffness and pain, which are typically felt in the morning
- Discomfort after a sporting activity
To minimize pain, rest to reduce the stress and weight you subject your Achilles tendon to as you seek treatment options.
- Heel Spur
A heel spur is formed by calcium deposits in the heel bone, which over time, results in a protrusion on the heel bone’s underside. It’s like a bone growing on top of another. It’s usually painless at first but eventually becomes painful. Heel spurs are common among athletes involved in high-impact sporting activities that involve sudden movements, running, and jumping. You may feel pain while jogging, walking, or running at the point of the spur formation. The pain does not come from the spur but the soft tissue injury linked to it.
- It feels like a knife sticking at the base of the foot
- Pain after sitting or standing for a long time
- Radiating heat from the affected area
- Visible bone protrusion under the heel
Rest may not be enough to treat heel spurs. It’s, therefore, best to seek medical attention where the following treatments may be recommended depending on your condition:
- Proper shoe recommendations
- Stretching exercises
- Physical therapy
A bigger percentage of athletes get better with non-surgical treatment. However, if this treatment fails, surgery may be necessary.
A neuroma develops due to the thickening of nerve tissue from irritation or compression. It’s a painful condition that affects the ball of the foot, usually between the third and fourth toes. It can result from a sports injury or repetitive action. It can also be due to the progression of plantar fasciitis. It’s common in athletes who play court games and runners.
- Burning, tingling, and numbness.
- Feeling as if there’s something in the ball of your feet.
- Feeling like there’s a fold in your sock or a pebble in your shoe.
The symptoms start gradually and can be felt when performing aggravating sporting activities. They may temporarily disappear when you remove your shoes and massage your foot. With time, the symptoms become more intense as the neuroma enlarges.
Athletes involved in sports like basketball, gymnastics, tennis, long jump, or running are at a higher risk and more vulnerable to the foot stress fracture. A stress fracture is a tiny crack in the bone, unlike a complete fracture which is a broken bone. It occurs when the foot muscles and bones are subjected to repeated impacts they can’t withstand. A stress fracture can also happen when you use improper sports equipment or technique that may upset the feet’ mechanics.
When you suffer from stress fractures, you’ll experience pain, swelling, and bruising in the affected area. They usually heal by themselves. However, the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) technique for minor fractures can accelerate healing. More severe cases may call for other forms of treatment like:
- Using a cane or crutches.
- Wearing braces or boots to protect the foot.
- Wearing casts to minimize movement on the affected area.
Surgery may be required for stress fractures that have not healed or improved within the expected time. In such instances, your podiatrist may insert fasteners, screws, pins, and plates to hold the bones together for faster healing.
During the healing process, you’ll be required to avoid activities that put too much weight or pressure on the affected area for six to eight months at the least.
The foot is usually at risk of various sports-related injuries because of the stresses and shifting loads it experiences during sporting activity. You can minimize the injury risks by taking measures, including using the right sporting equipment and wearing footwear suitable for the specific activity. Stretching adequately before engaging in sporting activity helps prepare the body. Lastly, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of sporting activity can prevent your feet from suffering stress and shock.
By Leah D. Taylor, a freelance medical sports journalist.
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