President Elect Biden needs to be more careful. Over the Thanksgiving holiday he slipped and twisted his ankle while playing with Major, one of his German shepherds. Initially he thought the injury was just a sprain since an X-ray didn’t reveal a break. However, a follow-up CT scan found hairline fractures in the lateral and intermediate cuneiform bones in his midfoot. Fortunately, Biden won’t need crutches, but he will need to wear a walking boot for several weeks to ensure his foot heals properly.
What can this incident tell us?
So many of us sprain our ankles and don’t think much of it. We put some ice on it or take a few ibuprofen and hope for the best. This is particularly true of my male patients. For many of them, running to the doctor at the first sign of an injury or symptom seems unmanly. Or they just assume their injury will heal on its own.
While this may be true some of the time, often this type of thinking is a mistake. Not treating a injury can lead to foot and ankle problems down the road that may only be resolved with surgery.
Here are some common foot and ankle injuries that will likely get worse if you don’t treat them in their early stages.
Hairline fractures or stress fractures like the type Joe Biden experienced can turn into much larger breaks if not adequately treated. Runners, underweight women, people with osteoporosis, and people with flat feet are all at risk for developing this condition. While this condition is easily treated in the early stages, if it progresses to a break, surgery may be needed to repair it.
Plantar fasciitis is not typically caused by an acute injury but develops overtime. Runners and other athletes often develop this condition through overuse and ramping up their training too quickly. Waiting to treat this condition or continuing to engage in sports activities will prolong the recover from this painful condition. If you do develop sudden onset of heel pain during exercise and there are signs of bruising, this indicates a tear has occurred. You should seek immediate attention from a podiatrist.
Like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis also develops overtime. When this condition is inadequately treated it can lead to Achilles tendonosis, a progressive and degenerative condition. The tendon becomes weaker and prone to re-injury and rupture. Treatment will require immobilization of the foot and ankle and treatment with regenerative medicine.
Ankle sprains that go untreated or do not adequately heal can turn into a condition called Chronic Ankle Instability. While the first line of treatment is physical therapy, if the instability is not resolved, newer advances in surgery now require much less recovery time.
Preventing Foot and Ankle Injuries
The best thing to do is to prevent foot and ankle injuries from occurring in the first place. Because so many of the conditions described above are more prevalent in athletes, the recommendations I’m giving will focus on those involved in sports.
Wear Appropriate Footgear
It’s important to wear footgear designed for the sport you engage in. Athletic shoes are designed to help prevent injuries based on the type of moves the athlete makes while engaged in their particular sport. For example, basketball players regularly jump and twist during play. Basketball shoes rise up around the ankle to help prevent ankle sprains which occur when that much twisting force is placed on the body.
Build Up Training Time Gradually
Oftentimes when we start a new sport or engage in a sport after a long period of time, we want to ramp up as quickly as possible. While keeping up with friends and colleagues seems like a good idea, participating at a new or old sport at the same level is a recipe for injury. Our bodies take time to accommodate changes, including increases in sports activity. Start off slowly and build up by 10% each week.
Stretch and Condition Sufficiently
Stretching is also key to preventing injuries. Many of the conditions named above are in part caused by having tight calf muscles. Stretching your calf muscles enough to prevent these conditions from occurring will often require more than just a static wall stretch. If you know you have tight calf muscles, consider using an Achilles splint to stretch them during the daytime. It’s also important to keep the rest of your body in condition so that less stress transfers to your feet and ankles during play.
If you've injured yourself while running or playing sports, give our office a call at 206-368-7000 or request an appointment online.