Guide to foot and ankle injuries

Guide to foot and ankle injuries

Whether you're an avid athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or simply someone who enjoys staying active, a few things can be as frustrating as being sidelined by injuries or enduring chronic pain in your feet and ankles. "Ankle and foot injuries can be debilitating and frustrating for anyone, but proper diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation can help patients regain function and get back to their active lifestyles," says David Pytowski, DPM, FACFAS, Podiatry at ARC Kyle Plum Creek and ARC Southwest in Austin. "In my practice, I utilize advanced imaging techniques such as MRI and CT scanning to pinpoint the pathology accurately, which allows for precise diagnosis and tailored treatment recommendations."

Understanding the symptoms, causes, and proper treatment for common foot and ankle issues is essential for staying in the game. Here is a guide to some more common foot and ankle injuries seen among athletes and weekend warriors:

Acute ankle sprains/injuries

An acute ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments surrounding the ankle are stretched or torn due to sudden twisting or rolling of the foot. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty bearing weight.

  • How long does a sprained ankle typically take to heal? Mild sprains may heal within a few days to a week, while severe sprains can take several weeks or even months to fully recover.
  • Can you walk on a sprained ankle? Depending on the severity of the sprain, walking may be possible with the aid of crutches or a supportive brace. However, it's important to avoid putting too much weight on the injured ankle to prevent further damage.
  • What does proper treatment/recovery consist of? Most sprains heal with conservative treatments like ice, elevation, over-the-counter medications and pain relievers, and simple rehabilitation exercises. However, if your ankle remains swollen or painful for several weeks despite conservative treatments, or if you have difficulty putting weight on your ankle, you may need to be evaluated by a podiatrist to ensure that you do not have a severe ankle sprain or fracture.

Chronic/repeated ankle sprains and ankle joint instability

Chronic ankle instability occurs when the ligaments surrounding the ankle remain weak or stretched, leading to frequent sprains and a feeling of "giving way" in the ankle.

  • What causes repeated ankle sprains and ankle joint instability? Chronic ankle instability usually develops following an ankle sprain that has not adequately healed or was not rehabilitated completely. Repeated ankle sprains often cause—and perpetuate—chronic ankle instability.
  • Can you recover from chronic ankle pain and/or joint instability? Yes. With proper treatment and rehabilitation, many individuals can successfully overcome chronic ankle pain and instability.
  • What does proper treatment/recovery consist of? Treatment may involve strengthening exercises, bracing, proprioceptive training to stabilize the joint, and, in some cases, surgical intervention to repair damaged ligaments. Ortho-biologics, such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy, can sometimes be used as treatment options for certain foot and ankle conditions, offering an alternative to traditional surgical approaches where appropriate.

More information about ankle ligament repair.

Achilles tendon rupture – Operative vs non-operative care

An Achilles tendon rupture occurs when the tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone tears, often during explosive movements like jumping or sprinting.

  • How serious is an Achilles tendon rupture? Achilles tendon ruptures can be debilitating, impacting mobility and athletic performance. It is a traumatic injury that requires medical attention. Without treatment, an Achilles tendon rupture may not heal properly.
  • Can a torn Achilles heal on its own? While some minor tears may heal with conservative measures, severe ruptures often require surgical repair to restore function and prevent re-injury.
  • What does proper treatment/recovery consist of? Treatment options include surgery followed by a period of immobilization and physical therapy, or non-surgical management with a combination of rest, bracing, and rehabilitation exercises.

More information about Achilles tendon injuries and treatment.

Chronic Achilles tendon pain (Achilles tendonitis)

Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury characterized by inflammation and degeneration of the Achilles tendon, resulting in pain and stiffness in the back of the ankle. Achilles tendinitis is typically not related to a specific injury; the problem results from repetitive stress on the tendon.

  • What happens if Achilles pain doesn't go away? Untreated Achilles tendonitis can lead to chronic pain, weakness, and an increased risk of tendon rupture. Surgery for Achilles tendonitis should be considered only if the pain does not improve after 6 months of non-surgical treatment.
  • Is it okay to walk with Achilles tendonitis? While rest is crucial for recovery, gentle walking and low-impact activities may be beneficial to maintain mobility and promote healing.
  • What does proper treatment/recovery consist of? The mainstays of non-surgical treatment include anti-inflammatory pain medications, activity modification, shoe wear modification, physical therapy exercises, and in some cases ortho-biologics, such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy, can be utilized.

Turf toe/Great toe joint injuries

Turf toe is a sprain of the ligaments surrounding the big toe joint, commonly caused by hyperextension during sports activities. It's a common injury among football players and athletes who sprint or jump.

  • How long does turf toe take to heal? Mild cases of turf toe may resolve within a few weeks, while severe injuries may require several months of treatment.
  • Can turf toe be permanent? Without proper care and rehabilitation, turf toe can lead to chronic instability and joint damage.
  • Is it okay to walk on turf toe? Walking may be possible with the use of supportive footwear or taping, but it's essential to avoid activities that aggravate the injury.
  • What does proper treatment/recovery consist of? Treatment typically involves rest, ice, taping, and physical therapy to improve strength and range of motion in the affected joint.

Overall, understanding the symptoms, causes, and proper treatment for common foot and ankle injuries helps athletes and fitness devotees stay healthy and perform at their best. "If you're experiencing persistent pain or instability in your feet or ankles, don't hesitate to seek advice from your ARC Podiatrist for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan," says Dr. Pytowski. "Your body will thank you in the long run for taking care of your foundation for fitness success."

Make an appointment today

ARC Podiatrists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle issues in patients of all ages. They address lower leg health, offering medical, orthotic, and surgical solutions for various ailments such as bunions and stress fractures, as well as pediatric issues such as flat foot and plantar warts.

Dr. Pytowski sees patients ages 7 and up. Make an appointment through ARC MyChart or ARC Help Me Book today. Don't let foot or ankle pain hold you back from enjoying life to the fullest—schedule a consultation today and take the first step towards healthier, happier feet.

Tags: Foot and ankle injury