Our feet are anatomical marvels, made up of dozens of bones and joints, and more than 100 muscles and ligaments, which aid us in walking upright—a notable feat (no pun intended) in the animal kingdom. They help us move with incredible precision, enabling a ballerina to execute poses that seem to defy gravity, and a marathon runner to cover an impressive distance in a single stint.
As effortlessly as our feet function most of the time, they face their share of problems and injuries. Athletes are especially prone to foot injuries, and we’ll take a look at some of the most common injuries they encounter. Foot pain should never be ignored, as doing so can lead to chronic foot problems.
1: Plantar Fasciitis
What it is: Plantar Fasciitis, also called heel pain syndrome, is a strain in the ligament that supports the arch of the foot. It is common among athletes and others who are on their feet a lot. It occurs more commonly in people with high arches or flat feet, since in both situations the fascia gets stretched away from the heel bone. Extreme pronation (foot rolls inward excessively) or supination (foot rolls outward) is another cause of plantar fasciitis. Back issues and core weakness can also be contributing factors.
How it’s treated:
Non-surgical treatments for plantar fasciitis include stretching exercises, avoiding going barefoot, icing the area, wearing supportive shoes or inserts, limiting activity, and taking NSAID medications to manage pain. If these treatments are still not effective, your doctor may prescribe some additional treatments, including padding and strapping to help soften the impact of walking and reducing strain on the fascia. Injection therapy with corticosteroid medicines may also be needed. A removable walking case, night splint, and physical therapy are additional treatments. Your foot doctor will identify the best treatments.
2: Stress Fracture
What it is: A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone, often caused by overuse or resulting from a new activity (e.g. circuit training, running, etc.). In the feet, stress fractures occur most often in the second and third metatarsals (the long bones that run along the top of the foot and connect to the bones of the toe). This area of the foot receives the greatest impact when an athlete pushes off or runs, and is therefore the most vulnerable to injury.
How it’s treated: Non-surgical treatments for a stress fracture include the RICE method—that is, rest ice, compression, and elevation—in addition to modified activities that place less stress on the foot while the foot is healing, which typically takes between six to eight weeks. Using crutches and/or protective footwear to keep weight off the foot may help. Your foot specialist will recommend the right treatment for you. Casting of the foot may also be necessary, especially if the fifth metatarsal bone (toward the outside of the foot) is fractured.
3: Achilles Tendinitis
What it is: The Achilles tendon attaches the calf to the back of the heel. Achilles tendinitis occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed. The condition causes pain and stiffness in the area, especially with activity and in the mornings. Achilles tendinitis occurs most commonly in runners who increase the intensity or duration of their runs suddenly rather gradually.
How it’s treated: RICE is an effective non-surgical treatment for Achilles tendinitis, and regularly stretching the calf muscles can help as well. Tendon ruptures may require surgical intervention, but most cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated without surgery.
What it is: Neuroma (referred to as Morton’s neuroma when it occurs in the foot) is most typically the result of inflammation in the connective tissue leading between the heel to the ball of the foot. It commonly occurs in the area between the third and the fourth toes, and can feel like standing on a hot pebble or having a hot poker between the toes. Neuroma often occurs from irritation, pressure, or overuse.
How it’s treated: Common treatments include using foot inserts, taking NSAID medications to reduce pain and swelling, changing footwear, stretching, and physical therapy. Your doctor may also inject corticosteroids to alleviate the problem. If these methods fail to provide relief, surgery to remove the painful nerve may be required.
5: Talus Fracture
What it is: The talus (TAY-lus) bone sits between the heel bone and the two bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula), and helps transfer weight and pressure across the ankle joint. Athletes, especially snowboarders, can suffer from fractures to the talus during falls from heights (e.g. on landing from a jump). Symptoms of a talus fracture include the inability to bear weight on the affected foot, as well as acute pain, swelling, and tenderness.
How it’s treated: A talus fracture almost always requires surgery. However, if x-rays show that the foot has not moved out of alignment, the doctor may be able to cast the foot for six to eight weeks. No weight can be placed on the foot for up to three months. Talus fractures must be treated immediately to ensure there is no permanent damage.
6: Heel Fracture
What it is: Breaking the heel bone takes a lot of force, but it does happen. Athletes who fall to the ground from considerable heights, such as skiers, snowboarders, and hurdle runners are more likely to sustain a heel fracture. Symptoms include pain and an inability to bear weight on the heel. Those who have sustained a heel fracture need to see a doctor right away, as improper healing could result in severe problems down the line.
How it’s treated: Non-surgical treatments include applying a splint until the swelling goes down (generally takes between one and three weeks), after which the doctor may provide a removable splint and prescribe exercises to help maintain movement and flexibility. Those with a heel fracture will not be able to put any weight on their feet for six to eight weeks. If surgery is required because the bones have shifted out of place, a metal plate and small screws will be implanted to keep the bone in place.
This is not an exhaustive list of foot injuries, but highlights some of the more common injuries athletes sustain. If you have a foot injury, don’t delay getting treatment. Dr. Ravaei is an expert foot surgeon with many years of experience treating various foot injuries and problems. Contact Dr. Ravaei today.
To learn more about foot injuries and problems, click here.