Physiologically, the foot is pretty marvelous instrument. With the way it adapts to the changing ground underneath you and how you can push off from it, there’s a lot going on in your foot and we’re putting stresses on it each and every day. From those stresses can come pain or injury.
There are 2 general types of foot and ankle problems that cause pain: chronic foot pain and acute foot pain.
WHAT IS CHRONIC FOOT PAIN?
Chronic foot pain is the general pain with live with day to day. When people present themselves at the clinic and say “my foot is hurting, and I’m not sure why,” it usually isn’t from any single incident like stepping off a curb wrong or landing from a jump badly. It just hurts, and it’s not getting any better. When this pain starts limiting daily activity, people usually come to see us.
A lot of chronic foot pain has to do with your foot type; flat feet, high arches, and neutral arches can all lead to different situations of chronic pain. Add to that the simple fact that we wear shoes, which we weren’t born with and which are bodies weren’t naturally supposed to wear, and you can see that there are a lot of compounding factors can cause chronic foot pain.
HOW TO PREVENT & TREAT CHRONIC FOOT PAIN
With genetically inherited situations like flat feet or high arches, oftentimes the best solution to relieve or prevent chronic foot pain is to alter your footwear with orthotics. At HealthWorks, we can design custom orthotic shoe inserts that will help to correct hyperpronation (flat feet) or supination (high arches) and allow your foot to move more naturally with less stress.
The type of orthotic we create will also depend on what types of activities you plan on doing; someone who is going to do a lot of running and jumping will have an orthotic that is different than someone who is just focused on walking around.
Another good tip is to simply stay away from bad shoes. Most shoes that you buy aren’t really made for your feet. They’re made for looks. It’s important to have a shoe that is built for your foot type and for the type of activity you are performing.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE FLAT FEET OR HIGH ARCHES
A good way to identify what your foot type is is by simply taking a look at your footprint when you get out of a pool. If you’re walking on the concrete with wet feet and you can see your whole foot in your footprint, that means you have flat feet (hyperpronation). If it has that C-shaped curve where you just see your toes and your heel, you’re more of a supinator (higher arch). Knowing this will help you to find appropriate footwear and relieve that stress in your feet.
WHAT IS ACUTE FOOT PAIN?
Acute foot pain refers to pain from a sports injury, accident, or any time you know why your foot is hurting; you step out of a vehicle and onto the curb and you hear a pop, or when you play sports and land on your feet funny and feel the instant the pain starts. One of the most common causes of acute foot pain is a sprained ankle.
An ankle sprain is an inversion injury where the toes go in toward the body. There are 3 lateral ligaments in the ankle that can be sprained individually or all at once. This is what we mean when we “grade” a sprain as 1, 2, or 3; a grade 3 sprain is where all three of the ligaments are torn and bleeding and swelling. Mild sprains can heal pretty quickly, while severe sprains often are put in a cast for 2 weeks to help proper healing.
TREATING ANKLE SPRAINS
After a sprain, we recommend protecting and resting the ankle for at least 72 hours, but sometimes for a week or two. We use the word PRICE to remember the proper steps: Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
When icing, only go for about 15-20 minutes. if you’re using a gel pack, cover it with a towel to prevent skin damage. If it’s just regular ice, you can just put it in a bag and apply directly to the skin.
Expect a 2-4 week recovery period for a mild sprain, or up to 6-8 weeks for a more severe injury.
PREVENTING ANKLE SPRAINS
The best way to prevent sprains is to train the muscles in the off season. Cross-training is great between sports seasons, but overtraining can be a problem—tired bodies are more prone to injury. You often see athletes using braces and taping their ankles before games or practice. This type of prophylactic bracing helps to prevent injuries from occurring as well as helping to support a weak or healing ankle.
The achilles tendon is the thick tendon that runs down the back of your lower leg that connects to your heel. Unfortunately, you never know when a ruptured achilles is coming. You could be doing just about anything when you hear a snap or a gunshot-like sound…and then you can’t walk.
The achilles tendon is like a rubber band; if you pull it slowly it will stretch fine, but if you stretch it too fast and it’s not ready, it will simply snap.
TREATING A RUPTURED ACHILLES
Ruptured achilles tendons generally need surgical intervention to properly heal. There is a 6 -week post-op period when you keep weight off, followed by physical therapy to work on mobility and range of motion.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Foot and ankle problems are some of the most common issues we see at our clinics, but there are things you can do to prevent or treat the pain associated with chronic and acute foot pain. Know your foot type, and always wear appropriate shoes for your foot type and activity. Using orthotic inserts in your shoes can help to give your feet the support they need. Keep your ankles and the surrounding muscles strong and flexible through strength training, stretching and physical activity. If you have weak or loose ankles, tape them up or use a prophylactic brace to keep the tendons from spraining. With severe injuries, consult a physician.
If you would like to discuss how to relieve your foot or ankle pain, contact us to set up an appointment with one of our physical therapists—we look forward to helping you move better!
Watch Travis & Dr. Nick Zervos discuss common foot and ankle problems on WAJR’s “Ask The Experts” radio show: