A professional basketball player goes up for a layup, comes down on an opponent’s foot and rolls his ankle. All athletes run the risk of ankle and foot injuries whenever they practice or play. But they aren’t the only ones vulnerable.
No matter the age or physical ability of a person, foot and ankle injuries can occur at any time. All you have to do is slip on some ice, step off a curb wrong, trip, fall, stumble, or do anything that can twist or roll your ankle.
Foot and ankle injuries rank high on the list of frequent musculoskeletal injuries. And although sports and recreational activities are the number one cause, injuries also commonly occur during work-related tasks or when doing projects around home. Older adults are at higher risk for ankle sprains and fractures because as people age, they lose muscle mass and bone strength. They also have more issues with vision and balance, which also increases their risk of injury.
Sprains, Strains, and Fractures
Foot and ankle injuries are defined by what (bone, ligament, or tendon) is damaged.
A sprain can be anything from microscopic tears in ligament fibers to a complete ligament tear or rupture. People can be at risk for ankle sprains if:
- They have weak muscles or tendons that cross the ankle joint, especially the peroneal muscles of the lower leg that stabilize the ankle;
- Weak or lax ligaments that join the bones of the ankle joint from a previous sprain;
- They have a low muscular response to an off-balance position;
- They are on an uneven surface;
- They don’t have shoes with adequate support;
- They return to activity after a sprain if the ligaments aren’t fully healed. This causes them to heal in a stretched position, resulting in less stability at the ankle joint and an increased risk of ankle sprains from that point on.
- They have very high arches that causes stress to the outer structure of the ankle.
A strain occurs when the muscles and tendons have been stretched or pulled too far or have become inflamed from overuse or injury. The two tendons that stabilize and protect the ankle are the ones that are often strained: the peroneal tendons. Ankle strains can be either acute or chronic. Acute strains can occur following a single trauma, such as stepping wrong and “twisting” or “rolling” your ankle, and chronic strains usually occur due to longer-term overuse of the ankle muscles.
A fracture is a break in one or more of the bones in the foot or ankle. Fractures can be anywhere from a major break to smaller stress fractures. Stress fractures are small cracks that develop in the bones of the feet, ankle and legs. They are most often caused by overuse in high-impact sports where feet repeatedly hit the ground (i.e. distance running), but unsupportive shoes as well as a sudden increase in physical activity might also be a cause. Pain from stress fractures usually develops gradually, and although one incident may not be enough to fracture the foot, over time, repetition or stress can cause the bone to weaken or break.
Preventing Foot and Ankle Injuries
Treat Your Feet Well – That means getting the correct footwear for the activity you are assuming. The right shoe provides support, comfort, withstands the demands of your movement and activity, and stabilizes your feet and ankles.
Choose athletic shoes specifically for your foot type – People whose feet pronate (roll downward and inward) or who have low arches should choose shoes that provide support in both the front of the shoe and under the arch. Those with a stiffer foot or high arches should choose shoes with more cushion and a softer platform. If you’re participating in a sport, use sport-specific shoes.
Replace shoes sooner rather than later – A good rule of thumb is to replace shoes you wear often every six months. If you walk 60 minutes a day or an average of seven hours a week, replace your shoes every three months. Your weight is also a factor. The more you weigh, the faster your shoes will wear out.
Be wary of the surface – Uneven terrain and walking can be a recipe for injury. So take extra caution when on areas with holes, debris, or obstructions, as well as when walking or running uphill and downhill.
Don’t push through pain – Listen to your body and take heed of what its saying. If you experience pain while you’re being active, modify the activity. If the pain continues, stop the activity. Pushing through pain could lead to injury or worsen an existing injury.
Your feet are the foundation of your entire body. They are under a lot of pressure – literally and figuratively – to help keep your body balanced and mobile. So if you ever have a foot or ankle injury, or experience foot or ankle pain, contact OSMS right away. Prompt treatment and rehabilitation is the best way to get you back to the life you love.