Tips for Preventing Foot and Ankle Injuries
Foot and ankle injuries are common in sports, especially running, tennis and soccer. But sports enthusiasts can decrease the risk of injury by taking some precautions.
Warm up prior to any sports activity
Lightly stretch or better yet, do a slow jog for two to three minutes to warm up the muscles. Don’t force the stretch with a “bouncing motion.”
Condition your muscles for the sport
The amount of time spent on the activity should be increased gradually over a period of weeks to build both muscle strength and mobility. Cross training by participating in different activities can help build the muscles.
Choose athletic shoes specifically for your foot type
People whose feet pronate or who have low arches should choose shoes that provide support in both the front of the shoe and under the arch. The heel and heel counter (back of the shoe) should be very stable. Those with a stiffer foot or high arches should choose shoes with more cushion and a softer platform. Use sport-specific shoes. Cross training shoes are an overall good choice; however, it is best to use shoes designed for the sport.
Replace athletic shoes when the tread wears out or the heels wear down
People who run regularly should replace shoes every six months, more frequently if an avid runner.
Avoid running or stepping on uneven surfaces
Try to be careful on rocky terrain or hills with loose gravel. Holes, tree stumps and roots are problems if you are trail running. If you have problems with the lower legs, a dirt road is softer than asphalt, which is softer than concrete. Try to pick a good surface if possible. However, if you’re racing, be sure to train on the surface you’ll eventually run on.
Be careful running too many hills
Running uphill is a great workout, but make sure you gradually build this up to avoid injuries. Be careful when running downhill too fast, which can often lead to more injuries than running uphills!
Prevent recurrent injuries
Athletes who have experienced ankle injuries previously may benefit from using a brace or tape to prevent recurrent ankle injuries.
Listen to your body
If you experience foot and ankle pain during a sport, stop the activity or modify the activity until the pain subsides. Also, if you have been injured, you should go through a period of rehabilitation and training before returning to the sport to prevent recurrent injuries.
Running and Tennis Injuries
Running and tennis injuries include ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. Ankle sprains, a partial or complete tear of any of the ligaments responsible for supporting and stabilizing the ankle joint, usually result from landing on an uneven surface and having the foot turn awkwardly.
Injury to the Achilles tendon, the strongest and largest tendon that connects the back of the calf muscle to the heel bone, occurs from overuse and is usually an acute inflammation or a partial tear. If the tendon is weak, it can rupture with the right force.
It is also common for the plantar fascia, the tough tissue that maintains the arch of the foot and runs from the heel to the toes, to become inflamed, resulting in heel or arch pain.
Runners also may experience injury to the tendons or ligaments located on the outside and inside of the ankle and stress fractures of the foot bones. In running, any one incident may not be enough to fracture the foot; however, over time, repetition of abnormal forces or stress can cause the bone to weaken or break. Five to 15 percent of all running injuries are stress fractures. Of those injuries, 49 percent occurred in those who ran between 25 miles to 44 miles per week.
Unlike foot and ankle injuries in tennis and running, which are usually overuse injuries, soccer injuries often result from trauma such as a direct blow to the lower leg. Because soccer is a contact sport, collision injuries from striking another player are common, accounting for 30 percent of all soccer injuries.
Ankle injuries in soccer account for 20 to 30 percent of all soccer injuries—the most common being ankle sprains. Soccer players also may experience turf toe, a sprain that results from stubbing the toe while running or improperly planting one’s cleats.
Treatment for these injuries varies depending on the severity of the injury. Most strains and sprains can be treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Moderate to severe cases, however, may require some form of immobilization such as a brace or a cast. Certain injuries that don’t heal within the expected time frame may require surgery.
It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible for foot and ankle injuries, especially if it is causing you to limp or there is swelling. Prompt and appropriate treatment and rehabilitation ensures the best possible recovery.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.