Athletes are at high risk of injuries, especially those involving the feet, ankles, and lower legs. Unfortunately, most athletes do not have the time—or the desire—to suspend their physical activity for weeks or months in order to recover from foot surgery. While the good news is that most overuse injuries will not require surgery, athletes may still need to take time off for non-invasive treatments to work.
Non-Surgical Treatments for Athletic Foot and Ankle Injuries
Whether you are a marathon runner or play in a hometown soccer league, conservative therapies are typically the first option to treat foot and ankle injuries. Podiatrists may even use a variety of non-invasive therapies, using surgery only as a last resort. Non-surgical treatments are particularly effective if you see a podiatrist at the first sign of trouble, and follow your doctor’s advice consistently throughout recovery.
However, your odds of requiring surgery increase if you:
- Continue to train. Overuse injuries are caused by repetitive stress. If you are a runner, the constant impact of your feet hitting the ground over and over can wear down the joints and tissues of the body. If you are a dancer, repeated jumping and landing can place significant strain on the heels and balls of your feet. In order to cope with the stress, your body needs time off to rest and rebuild the tissues. Any attempt to “push through the pain” can turn a sprain into a rupture (or an ache into a break).
- Skip first-aid. Immediate intervention can make a world of difference when it comes to pain levels, recovery times, and injury complications down the road. For this reason, any foot or ankle discomfort should be taken seriously, no matter how minor it may seem. If you suspect an overuse injury (such as a stress fracture or sprain), continue with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) therapy until the pain and swelling subsides.
- Attempt to cross-train. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get around the “rest” requirement by doing another form of cardiovascular activity. Substituting walking for running may seem like a compromise, but this “easier” activity ultimately uses the same parts of the body. At best, attempting to cross-train can delay your recovery—at worst, it can worsen your condition to the point where surgery is your only option. Your podiatrist may be able to recommend some strength training exercises to keep your feet, legs, and ankles flexible without adding pressure on your injured leg.
- Don’t stretch. Experts may differ on whether it is best to stretch before or after a workout, but they agree that any stretching is better than no stretching at all. Take the time to stretch your feet, calves, hips, and back regularly, adding in some squats and basic yoga poses to make your muscles and ligaments more resistant to injury. Your podiatrist can recommend stretches and physical therapy to improve strength and balance as you heal.
- Wear ill-fitting shoes. Athletes of all performance levels need proper footwear that will support and protect their feet. If you have never been professionally fitted for athletic shoes, the problem could lie with your gear. Our podiatrists can examine your foot shape and dynamics to find the best shoes for you, or create custom orthotics to wear inside your shoes to correct any underlying problems.
- Fail to speak with a podiatrist. If you have been coping with pain for some time, or have suffered a sudden and traumatic foot injury, you can help your recovery enormously by making an appointment with a podiatrist.
Don’t wait until your condition makes day-to-day life impossible! The foot and ankle specialists at Greater Washington Advanced Podiatry can create a customized treatment plan to get you pain-free as soon as possible. Simply fill out our online contact form or call us at (301) 515-FEET to set up your free initial consultation.