If you’re a fitness junkie or athlete, you know how important it is to pay attention to foot pain. Ignoring even minor aches may critically affect your fitness and cause further injury.
Whether the foot problem that’s ailing you is a simple swollen ankle, or as serious as a stress fracture, capsulitis, or sprained ankle, treating it immediately and properly is paramount for your health and future success as an athlete. Putting off treating your foot pain could develop into other serious health issues as you change your gait to compensate, according to research in the journal of Clinical Sports Medicine.
Sometimes, by easing up on your training and workouts, you’ll start to feel better after some time without treatment; however, this could exacerbate the problem and, ultimately, snowball into a slew of subsequent health problems if left untreated. If you think you have one of these foot injuries, talk to your doctor about treatment options, as well as exercises and stretches you can do while it heals.
The Achilles tendon is the longest tendon in the body and doesn’t receive a lot of blood flow, explains Dr. Miguel Cunha, founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City. “Runners put stress on this area from repetitive impact,” he says. “That repetitive stress causes micro-tears along the tendon, and it becomes inflamed and irritated.” Exercising inevitably leads to muscle hypertrophy (enlargement of the muscle tissue). The muscle thickens, but doesn’t lengthen. “If you’re not stretching to counteract the thickness, then the tendon becomes tight,” Cunha says.
Ease the ache: Place the ball of your foot against a wall while keeping your heel on the ground. With a straight knee, bring your hips forward toward the wall. Hold for 20–30 seconds. “I suggest stretching this area every time you brush your teeth and eat a meal, so that you can incorporate stretching into your daily routine. You can also do calf raises on a step while holding onto a railing,” Cunha adds.
Inflammation of the ligaments in the toes, this most commonly affects the joint of the second toe due to pressure on the ball of the foot relating to high arches, tight calf muscles or bunions. The symptom of capsulitis is pain while walking.
Ease the ache: Capsulitis of the foot can be relieved by applying ice to the affected joints and by taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen) to decrease the swelling and the stress placed on the affected joints. Cunha recommends that frozen water bottle rolling trick for this injury as well. You might also need to wear wider shoes to give your toes room. Consider adding cushioned insoles or metatarsal pads you’ll stick under the ball of your foot to stabilize and deflect stress from the joints of the forefoot.
This is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, the ligament on the bottom of the foot. “Every time you bear weight and your foot flattens, the distance between the front of the foot and the heel increases. That causes the ligament to become taut and develop micro-tears,” Cunha explains.
Ease the ache: “Avoid high-impact exercise for at least two weeks until symptoms subside,” Cunha suggests. Also try rolling your foot over a frozen water bottle at night for about 15 minutes.
A stress fracture is a tiny crack or severe bruising on the bone that typically impacts the second and third metatarsals in the foot, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This commonly occurs in runners, soccer players and basketball players. “Stress fractures are due to repetitive stress to the metatarsal [joint] of the long bone of the foot over time,” says Cunha. “Further impact could cause the compromised bone to break, and then you’re at risk of requiring surgery if you don’t give the body time to rest, heal and deposit extra bone.”
Ease the ache: Your podiatrist might recommend RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) as well as NSAIDs and a compression walking boot or other immobilization devices — possibly with crutches to offload weight — to reduce pain and allow the injury to heal. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the stress fracture and how much pain and swelling you’re experiencing, says Cunha. It often takes 6–8 weeks for a stress fracture to heal. Your podiatrist may suggest “closed reduction” where the fractured bones need to be realigned and manipulated back into their proper positions.
Swelling and puffiness of the tissue around the ankles and feet is also called “edema.” Having swollen ankles could be a sign of a serious health issue like kidney disease, congestive heart failure or cirrhosis of the liver. Check with your doctor if you’re experiencing related symptoms. But if you are fundamentally healthy and notice your ankles and feet are swollen, it’s probably because you’re retaining water from the temperature outside or a high-salt or high-carb diet.
Ease the ache: Elevate your feet, particularly at the end of the day, and increase circulation with compression socks. You might even want to soak them in an Epsom salt bath to relieve pressure.
The act of stretching or tearing of the ligaments that help hold the ankle bones together, this injury is most common in the anterior talofibular ligament on the front, outer part of the ankle joint. This often occurs with sports like basketball and volleyball, where you might invert your foot after coming down from a jump, Cunha says.
Ease the ache: “With ankle injuries, it’s important to treat them as soon as possible using ice, compression [with an Ace bandage] and rest. Delaying treatment could lead to scarring, or the ankle might not heal properly which makes you more likely to sprain your ankle another time,” he says. Soft-tissue injuries, like sprains, can take 3–12 weeks to heal.
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