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Foot and ankle injuries are common among athletes and those who exercise frequently. Most of these injuries are non-life-threatening and can heal in weeks with proper treatment and care. Serious injuries, however, require urgent medical treatment.
Common minor injuries include ankle sprains, ankle strains, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and turf toe. An ankle sprain is when the ligaments in the ankle have either become stretched or torn. When the muscle or tendon is stretched or torn, it is an ankle strain. When the big toe is sprained, it is known as turf toe. Achilles tendonitis is the overuse and inflammation of the Achilles tendon. Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia and generally occurs from overuse in athletics. Stress fractures are also caused from overuse and are small cracks in the bone.
Achilles tendon ruptures are common, but more serious. This injury occurs when the Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in the body, ruptures. In most cases, this causes severe pain and difficulty walking; some who have experienced this injury have reported, however, no signs or symptoms. A laceration is a deep cut that can occur anywhere on the body. Lacerations on the foot are rarer, but can occur from things like metal cleats landing on the foot.
Treatment options cover a wide range of methods based upon the injury and its severity. Conditions like plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis, turf toe and ankle sprains/ strains can heal on their own without immediate medical care, but seeing a podiatrist to monitor the injury is always recommended. Following the RICE (Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevation) protocol is generally enough to treat minor injuries. This means resting the foot by either keeping pressure off the foot or not walking at all. Icing the injury will help reduce swelling and pain. Compressing the wound with a wrap will immobilize and help promote healing. Finally, keeping the wound elevated will also reduce swelling and also help the healing process.
It is important to note that even minor injuries can vary in severity, with grade one being a minor injury and grade three requiring urgent care by a podiatrist. Achilles tendon ruptures and lacerations on the foot generally require urgent medical care and treatment options that need a podiatrist. These could include imaging tests, stitches for cuts, rehabilitation, and casts or braces. Every case is different, however, so it is always recommended to see a podiatrist when pain in the foot does not disappear.
Sever’s disease, also known as calcaneal apophysitis is a common bone disorder that occurs during childhood. The disease is defined as an inflammation of the growth plate in the heel. When a child has a growth spurt, his heel bone grows faster than the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in his leg. This disease is a result of overuse. The people who are most likely to be affected by this disease are children who are in a growth spurt, especially boys who are from the ages of 5 to 13 years old. 60% of children with Sever’s disease have both heels involved.
Symptoms of this disease are heel pain that intensifies during running and jumping activities. The pain is typically localized to the posterior part of the heel. Symptoms may be severe, and they can easily interfere with daily activities. Children who play soccer, baseball, and basketball are more likely to develop Sever’s disease.
Your doctor will diagnose your child based on his or her symptoms, x-rays are generally not helpful in diagnosing this disease. Your doctor may examine both heels and ask your child questions about his or her activity level in sports. Your doctor may then use the squeeze test on your child’s heel to see if there is any pain. Nevertheless, some doctors might still use x-rays to rule out any other issues such as fractures, infections, and tumors.
Sever’s disease can be prevented by maintaining good flexibility while your child is growing. Another prevention method is to wear good-quality shoes that have firm support and a shock-absorbent sole. Sever’s disease can be treated by ceasing any activity that causes heel pain. You should apply ice to the injured heel for 20 minutes 3 times a day. Additionally, orthotics should be used for children who have high arches, flat feet, or bowed legs.
If you suspect your child has Sever’s disease, you should make an appointment with your podiatrist to have his or her foot examined. Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain. In more severe cases, your child may need a cast to rest his or her heel. Fortunately, Sever’s disease does not cause long-term foot problems. After treatment, your child should start to feel better within two weeks to two months.
Flatfoot is classified as having the entire sole of the foot in contact or near contact to the ground while standing. The disorder is also known as fallen arches, because those affected have no arch in their feet. Flexible flatfoot and rigid flatfoot are the two types of flatfoot.
A person has flexible flatfoot if when sitting or standing on their toes, they have an arch that disappears when they stand with the entire foot on the ground. Flexible flatfoot may also be called “pediatric flatfoot” because the condition first appears in childhood. It is common among infants because the arch does not develop until the age of 5 or 6 years. Rigid flatfoot is not as common in children as it is with adults. This type of flatfoot is developed due to the weakening of tibialis posterior muscle tendon, a major supporting structure of the foot arch. Development of this deformity is progressive and shows early signs of pain and swelling that begins at the inside arch of the foot and moves to the outside of the foot below the ankle. More severe cases can possibly lead to arthritis of the foot and ankle joints.
Although most cases of flatfoot involve people born with the condition, some less common causes are obesity, diabetes, pregnancy, and osteoporosis. In some cases, flatfoot may come with no symptoms at all and does not require any type of treatment. With other cases though, symptoms may include pain in the shin, knee, hips and lower back. If a person with flatfeet experiences such symptoms, a health care provider may suggest using orthotic devices or arch supports, which may reduce the pain. Wearing supportive shoes can also prove more comfortable with flatfeet and staying away from shoes with little support such as sandals. Other methods to relieve pain also include stretching the Achilles tendon properly and using proper form when doing any physical activity. In addition, losing weight can reduce the stress on your feet and reduce the pain.
A bunion is an enlargement of the base joint of the toe that connects to the foot, often formed from a bony growth or a patch of swollen tissues. It is caused by the inward shifting of the bones in the big toe, toward the other toes of the foot. This shift can cause a serious amount of pain and discomfort. The area around the big toe can become inflamed, red, and painful.
Bunions are most commonly formed in people who are already genetically predisposed to them or other kinds of bone displacements. Existing bunions can be worsened by wearing improperly fitting shoes. Trying to cram your feet into high heels or running or walking in a way that causes too much stress on the feet can exacerbate bunion development. High heels not only push the big toe inward, but shift one's body weight and center of gravity towards the edge of the feet and toes, expediting bone displacement.
A podiatrist knowledgeable in foot structure and biomechanics will be able to quickly diagnose bunions. Bunions must be distinguished from gout or arthritic conditions, so blood tests may be necessary. The podiatrist may order a radiological exam to provide an image of the bone structure. If the x-ray demonstrates an enlargement of the joint near the base of the toe and a shifting toward the smaller toes, this is indicative of a bunion.
Wearing wider shoes can reduce pressure on the bunion and minimize pain, and high heeled shoes should be eliminated for a period of time. This may be enough to eliminate the pain associated with bunions; however, if pain persists, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed. Severe pain may require an injection of steroids near the bunion. Orthotics for shoes may be prescribed which, by altering the pressure on the foot, can be helpful in reducing pain. These do not correct the problem; but by eliminating the pain, they can provide relief.
For cases that do not respond to these methods of treatment, surgery can be done to reposition the toe. A surgeon may do this by taking out a section of bone or by rearranging the ligaments and tendons in the toe to help keep it properly aligned. It may be necessary even after surgery to wear more comfortable shoes that avoid placing pressure on the toe, as the big toe may move back to its former orientation toward the smaller toes.