Treating and Preventing Foot and Ankle Overuse Injuries
Injuries to the foot and ankle aren’t always accompanied by a popping sound and a scream of pain. Overuse injuries develop subtly and over time. You may not be aware that you’re at risk, or that an overuse is already developing in one of the bones, joints, tendons or ligaments in your feet or ankles.
The feet and ankles are some of the most complex parts of the musculoskeletal system. More than a quarter of the bones in the human body can be found in the two feet alone. Each foot also has 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Any one of these structures can be stressed or injured from overuse.
Luckily, overuse injuries to the foot and ankle can be prevented and their risk can be reduced. Here are some of the most common foot and ankle overuse injuries, and what to do about them.
Common Foot and Ankle Overuse Injuries
Overuse injuries occur from repetition. Regular, repeated stresses, such as from sports, on a part of your anatomy can cause tissue to begin to break down. People with foot or ankle abnormalities such as high arches, loose tendons or previous injuries are at greater risk than people with healthy and anatomically normal feet and ankles.
Some of the most common overuse injuries include:
- Achilles tendon tear—An Achilles tendon injury is often acute, meaning it happens due to a single event. However, the tendon can be weakened by repeatedly putting pressure on it, such as from running or other sports.
- Ankle sprain—Ankle sprains are injuries to ligaments in the ankle, most often on the outside of the foot. They frequently occur due to the “rolling” of an ankle, but repeated ankle sprains can cause the ligament to lose tightness, leading to ankle instability and an increased risk of further ankle sprains.
- Heel pain—Heel pain is often caused by plantar fasciitis, which can be an overuse injury from the repeated footfalls of running.
- Stress fracture—Stress fractures are small but potentially painful cracks in the delicate bones of the feet. They can occur from stress due to jogging or sports.
- Tendinopathy—Tendinopathy is a catchall term for problems with tendons. When the feet and ankles are repeatedly stressed, tendons can become inflamed and weak.
When Should You See a Podiatrist for an Overuse Injury?
Right away! A podiatrist has more treatment options—especially nonsurgical treatment—available to use when an overuse injury is relatively recent. A newer ankle or foot overuse injury likely has less damage to the surrounding tissue, and recovery can often be easier compared with an injury that is many months old.
Conservative, nonsurgical treatment options for foot and ankle overuse injuries can include:
- Bracing—Bracing keeps the anatomy of the foot and ankle in place and prevents excess or improper movement, allowing the injured tissue to begin healing faster on its own.
- Corticosteroid injections—Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatories that can be injected into joint spaces or soft tissue and around ligaments. However, corticosteroids are never used to treat tendon injuries because they can further weaken the tendon and possibly lead to rupture.
- Custom orthotics—Orthotics are specialized shoe inserts made specifically for your feet, which can provide extra support and help correct anatomical or gait abnormalities
- Nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—NSAIDs can reduce pain and inflammation associated with overuse injuries of the foot and ankle.
- Physical therapy—Physical therapy programs are designed to increase strength and range of motion and facilitate healing of overuse injuries.
When Should You Consider Surgery for an Overuse Injury?
Surgical repair of an overuse injury can be a treatment option when your injury has not healed after rest and nonoperative treatment methods. Sometimes soft tissue like tendons and ligaments become so thickened and scarred from overuse injuries that they do not respond to bracing, physical therapy or anti-inflammatory treatments.
Surgery may also be an option if the overuse injury leads to a new or acute injury that won’t respond to conservative treatment. Examples can include more complex fractures as well as full tendon or ligament tears.
If you suspect you have an overuse injury of the foot or ankle, request an appointment with one of the foot and ankle specialists at Essex Union Podiatry. We can diagnose the cause and nature of your ankle or foot injury and develop a treatment plan that works for you.
To request more information, call us at 973-376-8210 or fill out the form below and someone will be in touch shortly.
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