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Getting Back into Sports after Foot and Ankle Injuries

Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries athletes undergo. Anyone who sprains their ankle knows it is a very painful-and frustrating-problem, as it causes the victim to miss out on participating in their favorite sport. It also causes a higher likelihood of re-injury once an ankle is sprained.

In order to get back into sports after incurring a sprained ankle, it is best to follow the RICE method, recommended by sports medicine doctors and physical therapists alike. RICE consists of rest, ice, compression and elevation. In addition, athletes should consider wearing an ankle brace in order to minimize the pain and keep the ankle safe and stabilized as it heals. This combination can serve to get athletes back on the playing field in no time.

Fractures occurring in the foot and ankle are another common injury many athletes face. Stress fractures occur when an athlete suddenly increases his or her athletic training. These stress fractures come in two types, stable and displaced. Stable stress fractures involve no shifting in bone alignment while displaced stress fractures involve mismatched bone ends that no longer line up.

Athletes should see a doctor immediately if he or she suffers a stress fracture. Usually treatment involves plenty of rest, including refraining from the sport that caused the injury in addition to any strenuous activities.

Athletes need to care for the treatment processes when it comes to foot and ankle injuries. Take time to rest before hitting the field. The more an athlete invests in their treatment and recovery process, the faster he or she will be able to return to their passion with full athletic performance.


Nerve Disorders of the Foot and Ankle

Similar to well known nerve disorders in the hands, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve disorders that affect the foot and ankle occur in patients for reasons ranging from stress to genetics. Nerve disorders of the foot should be addressed right away because they may be immobilizing in serious cases. Two of the most common nerve disorders of the foot and ankle are Interdigital Neuroma and Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.

Interdigital Neuroma is caused by localized inflammation of one of the nerves that controls toe sensitivity in the frontal area of the foot. This inflammation is generally only found in the second or third interspace, and any other symptoms similar to Neuroma on other digits should be checked against other disorders. Symptoms include chronic burning or tingling sensations between the affected toes which can, at times, migrate to the toes themselves. This pain is often increased by walking, running, or by wearing shoes that compress the toes, such as high heels. A doctor should be consulted if this pain is chronic and if the symptoms get worse.

Typical examinations to determine the presence of Neuroma include radiographs, MRIs, and even bone scans of the affected area. Bone scans are only required if degeneration of bone is suspected, however. Surgery is often not required to alleviate the symptoms of Neuroma, and in many cases functional orthotics can be used to alleviate the stress of constant weight on the affected toes. Surgery is recommended for those patients that suffer from symptoms for 6 months or more, so reporting symptoms early can increase the rate of non-surgical recovery.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, a condition that is less common than Interdigital Neuroma, is similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in that it is caused by a compression of the nerve caused by any number of factors (mostly associated with excess pronation). Typically seen in those that have either flatfeet or valgus heel positions, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome has patients complaining of moderate to severe ankle pain that starts along the bottom of the foot and often proceeds to the calf. Some more extreme cases occur with partial numbness and even atrophy of the foot and surrounding muscles.

If there is a good chance that someone has Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, an EMG test is often used to diagnose the condition.  If the diagnosis is positive, an MRI can be used to identify the compression of the nerve. Treatment with NSAIDS, functional orthotics, and rest off of the feet is often prescribed, but again, long standing symptoms require surgery, as do exacerbated symptoms caused by lesions present between nerves.


Broken Foot Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

A broken foot is when one of the bones located in the foot fractures, or breaks. About 10% of broken bones occur in the foot.

Bones typically break when an object crushes, bends, or stretches the bone. In the foot, the location of the broken bone is usually indicative of how the break occurred. Toes usually break when something hard and solid is kicked with great force. Broken Heels are usually a result of falling from a great height and landing on the feet. Other broken bones in the feet can occur because of a twisted or sprained ankle. Most of the time, a broken foot results from a sudden accident or injury. Sometimes small cracks can form over time in the bones of the feet from repeated stress. These cracks are called stress fractures and usually only occur in athletes that put a lot of pressure on their feet, like runners, dancers, and gymnasts.

Symptoms of a broken foot typically include pain, swelling, bruising, and redness. Occasionally the pain of a broken foot may be so severe that walking is not an option. However, this depends on the location of the broken bone within the foot. Broken toes are usually less painful than broken heels or other bones within the foot. A foot that is blue, numb, cold, misshapen, cut or deformed can occur in more serious cases of broken feet. Those who are experiencing any of these symptoms, or suspect that they have a broken foot, should seek medical attention in a center where x-rays can be performed. 

Prior to seeking the attention of a doctor, several steps can be taken at home in order to reduce pain and swelling. Stabilization and elevation of the broken foot should be the number one priority. It is important not to move the foot, so any type of homemade splint will work well. However, any splint that causes the foot to become more painful, or cut off blood circulation should be removed. Ice can also decrease swelling and alleviate some of the pain that a broken foot can cause.

In a medical center, treatment for a broken bone will differ depending on which bone in the foot is fractured and depending on what caused the break. Some broken feet will require the patient to use crutches, while others will require splits or casts. More severe cases may require surgery on the foot to repair the broken bone or bones.


Pregnancy and Foot Health

Many pregnant women complain about foot pain while they are expecting, primarily caused by weight gain and hormonal changes taking place in the body. By understanding how pregnancy impacts the health of a woman's feet, a pregnant woman can take action to keep her feet as healthy and comfortable as possible.

Because a woman's weight changes during pregnancy, more pressure is brought to bear on both the legs and the feet. This weight shift can cause two major foot problems: over-pronation, also known as flat feet, as well as edema, which is swelling of the feet. Over-pronation occurs when the arch of the foot flattens, causing the foot to roll inwards when the individual is walking, and can aggravate the plantar fascia tissues located along the bottom of the feet. If these tissues become inflamed, a pregnant woman can experience pain in the heel of the foot as well as severe foot pain while walking or standing. Swelling of the feet, or edema, often occurs in the later stages of pregnancy, caused by slow circulation and water retention, and may turn the feet a light purple color.

To keep feet in good health and prevent over-pronation, pregnant women should avoid walking barefoot and be sure they are wearing shoes that offer good arch support. Often a device known as an orthotic can be added to regular footwear in order to provide additional support for the feet during pregnancy. Any expectant mother whose feet hurt should first check to see if the shoes she is wearing are old, worn out and not offering the arch of the foot the proper support necessary to support and distribute the weight of her body during pregnancy.

To treat edema of the feet, a good start is to wear quality footwear which offers support and good circulation. Keep feet elevated whenever possible by using a foot stool while seated. Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water to prevent water retention in the feet. Any swelling that occurs in only one foot should be examined as soon as possible by a doctor.

Good foot health during pregnancy can help expectant mothers avoid foot pain that leads to other health problems. Massaging the feet and doing regular gentle exercise like walking aids in foot health by contributing to good circulation. Supportive shoes are also a good investment that will support foot health during pregnancy.


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