Sports and Foot Health
There are so many reasons to lead an active life. The physical benefits include weight management, reduced risk of various diseases (like diabetes), and a stronger body. Additionally, regular exercise leads to better overall mood, more restful sleep at night, and even improved cognitive performance.
(Now, if this were an infomercial promoting physical activity this is the point where the slick spokesperson would say “But wait, there’s more!”)
Working out on a regular basis provides a wide array of benefits – and this means it can be rather easy to overlook how exercise plays a role in foot health.
Your lower limbs give you the opportunity to be healthy and active in the first place, but you return the favor when exercising and improve their health via:
- Improved circulation. Your feet need a healthy blood flow to receive nourishment, and exercise promotes strong circulation. This is especially important given how far they are from your heart!
- Limber muscles. Limber muscles in your lower legs reduce your risk for injury, since they don’t put as much strain on the connective tissues as do tight muscles.
- Stronger bones. One of the lesser-known benefits of exercise—particularly those that fall in the “high-impact” category—is increased bone strength. In turn, stronger bones are better able to handle higher force loads.
For some people, playing sports is a way of staying fit, having fun, and being social. For other people, participating in sports is a way of life. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, though, you need to take care of your feet to be able to participate in the sports you love.
Any game or athletic activity like running or hiking can put incredible strain on your lower limbs and potentially lead to sports injuries.
Sports injuries fall into two general categories:
- Acute injuries – These happen in accidents that you generally cannot prevent. This kind of injury can be sudden and create immediate pain and damage to your lower limbs. You often lose mobility or strength in the effected limb that makes it difficult or impossible to continue in your sport until you’ve healed.
- Chronic injuries – The feet have been overworked and can no longer handle the strain. Repetitive motions and hard impacts, or simply changing or adding to your routine when your body is not prepared, can be enough to create a problem. Painful damage develops as a result. Usually the discomfort increases over time as the injury worsens.
Both, however, can be extremely painful and debilitating. Here are the types of injuries we see most often at our Holland and St. Joseph offices:
- Sprains and strains – Whether you twist your ankle or pull a calf muscle, these injuries happen when ligaments, tendons, and muscles are pulled or stretched beyond their normal range of motion. A sprain is usually caused by a sudden movement, and you can often hear something pop or snap as it occurs. Ankle sprains and turf toe are two common problems that can cause immediate pain, swelling, and limited movement. A strained muscle can cramp up, swell, and cause a stabbing pain when you try to move it.
- Turf toe – Many people recognize turf toe as an injury that can happen to football players, but this ailment can happen to athletes in an array of sports. Turf toe occurs when your big toe bends back further than it is intended to do so, often because the front of your foot has become “stuck” on the ground. This can happen due to cleats stuck in a football or soccer field, but also on basketball court if your shoes have good grip. It is also common for dancers.
- Fractures – A sudden impact can cause one of the bones in your feet or legs to break. Broken toes are one common example. However, you can also develop stress fractures, which are tiny cracks in the surface of your bones, from repeated trauma over time. These are often caused when your muscles are too tired to absorb the shock of your steps, and then the impact is transferred to the bone instead. Metatarsal stress fractures often happen when playing sports.
- Achilles tendon disorders – The ropy cord at the back of your ankle is your largest and strongest tendon in your body, but it is not invincible. Overuse can cause it to stretch, tear, rupture, or become inflamed (Achilles tendinitis), all of which can be very painful. You can also develop Achilles bursitis in the protective sac that cushions between the tendon and your heel bone. Anyone who runs, jumps, or stands a lot all day is susceptible, and the risk increases if you have tight calf muscles, which is why stretching is so important.
- Heel and arch pain – These are some of the most common complaints of athletes and can be caused by several conditions. One is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the ligament under your foot. In children, heel pain is often caused by Sever’s disease, a problem with the growth plate in the heel and tight Achilles tendons. Fallen arches caused by posterior tibial tendinitis can also cause discomfort in the heel and arch. All of these are a result of strain that causes damage to your ligaments, tendons, or bones, and athletic activities often provide that stress.
The good news is that the risk for many of the common sports injuries can be decreased with a little knowledge and effort on the front end. Here are some tips that will help keep the injuries at bay:
- Ease into physical activity. Too often people are so eager to start a new workout routine or join their new rec team that they try to do too much, too soon. Fight this urge and gradually progress with regard to your frequency and duration of activity.
- Stretch! Going into activity with muscles that are cold and tight is an open invite for injury. Take the time to do a 5-minute workout and then thoroughly stretch, especially the feet and ankles that allow you to move in the first place.
- Consider your shoes. Make sure that you are choosing the appropriate footwear for the activity you are participating in. It’s true that you might physically be able to run a marathon in loafers, but you will end up with more pain and issues than you bargained for. Also, make sure they offer a proper fit (not too snug, not too loose).
- Variety is the spice of life, so give your workout some flavor. Cross-training is a smart way to promote overall health and conditioning, but it will also help you avoid injury. In addition to playing flag football or running road races, spend some time in the pool or get on the ol’ bicycle and hit the streets. Your body will thank you for the low-impact workouts.
- Get a good night’s sleep. When you are in the physically restorative phases of deep sleep, your blood pressure drops and your breathing becomes deeper and slower. Your brain rests with very little activity, so the available blood supply to your muscles increases. This increased blood supply delivers extra amounts of oxygen and nutrients to facilitate muscular and tissue healing and growth. For adults, try to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. For teens, the range is more like 7-10.
The key to addressing any sports injury, of course, is to take care of it right away. Whether you have problems from injuries at school, your regular run, weekend hiking, or any other sports/athletic activity, you should have it checked out by one of our team members at Northwood Foot and Ankle Center. We can determine the extent of your condition, identify contributing factors, and check for complications.
Your specific treatment will depend entirely on your individual injury. In most cases, though, conservative methods work well. You’ll need to take a break from your regular activities to let your lower limbs heal. You might need to make shoe changes or use orthotics to better support and cushion your lower limbs. Sport-specific physical therapy to stretch and strengthen your lower limbs can help as well.
For more information about foot and ankle sports injuries—or to request an appointment at either of our West Michigan podiatrist offices for professional diagnosis and treatment—give us a call at (616) 393-8886 or connect with us online today!