Common Foot and Ankle Sports Injuries

Prevention & Treatment Tips for Foot and Ankle Sports Injuries

Exercise and sports are a great way to keep in shape. Running, jumping, and moving helps keep our muscles strong, improves our circulation, and helps us maintain a healthy weight. But while the advantages of exercise far outweigh the risks, sometimes people feel the effects of exercise in their ankles, feet, and heels.

Many active, healthy people know that it’s common to feel discomfort in the muscles of your back, neck, or knees after a workout. After all, each time we try to extend our physical performance, we feel some associated aches and pains.

However, when it comes to your feet, it may be time to make an exception. Whether walking, running or jumping, feet and ankles absorb much of the shock of physical movement. So, it’s no surprise when adults and children get blisters, calluses, sprains, or other foot injuries.

While some foot and ankle injuries are minor, some will require the help of a professional to heal properly. If your feet are painful, red, swollen, or tender to the touch, you may need help. But how do you know when you’re dealing with a serious medical condition, and when you’ve just got tired feet?

In this article, we’ll help you determine when to be concerned, and when to treat your foot pain at home. We’ll also examine some of the more common foot and ankle injuries, talk about how to prevent them, discuss symptoms, assess risks, and give tips on the best way to treat your injuries so you can get back on your feet and continue your healthy and active lifestyle.

Even Everyday Exercise Can Cause Foot and Ankle Problems

While exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to protect your feet. Your ankles, heels, and feet bear the weight of your entire body. That means they also have to absorb much of the impact of running and jumping. Even if you’re not an athlete, you still put your feet through a real workout on an ordinary day. That means your feet and ankles are susceptible to all kinds of injuries, big and small.

stretching feet and ankles

Feet, heels, and ankles are complex. They consist of an intricate network of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones that work in tandem with your legs, your spine, and the rest of your body. As your feet and ankles twist, turn, and absorb shocks, it’s common for them to compensate in ways that cause immediate or long-term injuries such as bunions, sprains, or worse.

For people who like to exercise, these kinds of minor foot and heel injuries may not stop you from wanting to play through the discomfort. After all, when walking and moving around, it’s often easy to ignore a little foot pain. But even seemingly minor injuries in the foot, heel, or ankle can quickly escalate into bigger issues over time. That’s why it makes sense to stop, rest, and heal whenever you suspect you’ve sustained an injury.

What are Common Heel, Foot, and Ankle Injuries?

While there are many ways to hurt your heels, feet, and ankles, most injuries can be grouped into few common categories. These afflictions affect a wide variety of people, from children to seniors, from athletes to couch potatoes.

We’re going to tell you about each condition, which symptoms to look for, how to prevent them, what kind of home treatment to use at home, and tips on why and when to see a doctor.

Plantar Fasciitis

  1. What is it?
    Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common heel ailments. This condition occurs when there is an inflammation of the thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot (the plantar fascia) and connects your heel bone to your toes. If you have plantar fasciitis, you’ll experience a sharp heel pain that usually increases after resting, and often dulls as the foot is used.
  2. Symptoms:
    Unlike many injuries, plantar fasciitis often feels better after using the foot. This leads some people to think that they are healing the foot with exercise. Others attribute the pain to stiff muscles. Still others misdiagnose it as a type of arthritis. Acute cases are usually very painful in the morning, making walking difficult. There is also extreme discomfort after resting for long periods of time. The pain can be stabbing, throbbing, or dull, but usually manifests in the heel or arch of the foot and is tender to the touch.
  3. Prevention:
    This is a common injury in runners, in the overweight, and in people who wear shoes with a lack of support. It is often seen in women who spend a lot of time on their feet in heels and is more common in people over 40.
    If you are in any of these risk groups, it’s wise to spend time each day stretching your calves, hamstrings, and heels thoroughly. Spend extra time stretching before running, jogging, or long walks. Wear shoes with a cushioned sole that provides strong support in the heels and on the sides of the shoes. Stay away from soft running shoes that form to the foot. Avoid high heels. Use orthotics in shoes without cushioned soles. If you begin to feel mild heel or arch pain that you suspect may be the beginning of plantar fasciitis, step up your preventative measures; spend more time stretching, stay out of heels, and ice your heel for ten minutes a day.
  4. Home Treatment:
    If you identify your case of plantar fasciitis early, you may be able to treat it successfully at home. Spend more time stretching your calves, hamstrings, and heels each morning and night. If you wear heels, switch to high-support running shoes. Invest in orthotics. If you run, take a break until your heel is better. Elevate and ice your heel for ten minutes a day. Using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to help reduce inflammation and plantar heel pain.
  5. See a Doctor?
    If home treatment doesn’t improve your condition within a few weeks, or if you need relief from significant pain, see a foot and ankle expert at Harford Foot Extremity Specialists. We may tape the foot, apply a brace, inject steroids, or prescribe orthotics.  While every patient is different, our team of experts should be able to provide immediate relief in most cases.

soccer athlete stretching

Stress Fracture

  1. What is it?
    While not as severe as a broken bone, a stress fracture should still be taken seriously. As the name suggests, a fracture is a tiny crack in the bone, caused by repeated stress or impact, and is a common injury in legs, ankles, and feet.
    Many patients are confused when a seemingly minor action causes a stress fracture. While a significant trauma or impact can cause this condition, more commonly, it is the result of repetitive forces over time. No one action causes it. Instead, it is the result of many repeated actions.
  2. Symptoms:
    A stress fracture often feels as painful as a broken bone. The discomfort is sharp and easy to locate. The site of the injury is tender to the touch. Putting pressure on the foot or ankle with the fracture will hurt. If the fracture is not treated, the pain may linger after use, eventually becoming constant. Swelling is common, but not always present.
  3. Prevention:
    While it’s hard to prevent a stress fracture, some precautions can be taken. The most sensible precaution is to eat a healthy diet with lots of leafy greens, calcium, and vitamin D. Make sure you get the nutrients you need to maintain a healthy bone density. Strong bones break less easily.
    Wear supportive footwear that is appropriate for your activity. Runners should wear running shoes designed for repeated impact.  Basketball players should wear shoes built for stopping and starting. If you have trouble finding a good fit, you may need a doctor to prescribe an insert or an orthotic.
    When exercising or playing sports, make training changes gradually. This will allow your muscles and tendons to build and adjust in ways that protect your bones from stress fractures. If you are overweight or smoke, you’re more suspectable to stress fractures, so be especially careful to build your activity levels gradually.
    Avoid doing the same exercises every day. You may love to run, but it’s not smart to run every day. Instead, cross train between running, swimming, and yoga, for example, to provide different levels of impact, and to use different muscle sets. Variations not only contribute to overall health and fitness; they also reduce repetitive stress on one area or set of bones.
    Children with developing bones and older people with osteoporosis are especially at risk for bone fractures. These groups should pay special attention to preventative measures.
  4. Home Treatment:
    While most stress fractures heal on their own with rest, you should not self-diagnose. If you suspect a stress fracture, get it examined by a doctor.
  5. See a Doctor?
    If you suspect a stress fracture, see a doctor immediately. In some cases, the break may be more extensive. Your doctor may take an X-Ray or order an MRI to examine the break. They may prescribe a medical boot to minimize the weight or pressure on the affected area. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen may be prescribed to help to reduce inflammation and pain.

basketball ankle health

Sprained Ankle

  1. What is it?
    The ankle is built to move in a wide variety of ways, but its mobility has limits. Ankle sprains happen when the foot rolls or turns in a way that stretches or even tears the ligaments that hold your ankle bones together. When these ligaments are overextended, you’ll feel the resulting pain. That ankle will then start to feel stiff, swell, and even become bruised afterward.
  2. Symptoms:
    The signs of an ankle sprain vary based on the severity of the injury. You may hear or feel a pop when you sprain the ankle. The sprained area may be tender to the touch, and you could feel significant pain when you put weight on it. Swelling is typical, and bruising can also occur. It will hurt to move or flex your ankle.
  3. Prevention:
    While the spraining of an ankle is usually considered an accident, there are some precautions you can take. Sports that require jumping, cutting or twisting of the foot put you at higher risk for sprains. Wearing high topped shoes with ankle supports will reduce your chances of a sprain. Avoid exercising or playing sports on uneven surfaces or fields, especially if there rough or broken ground.
    People who are overweight or who have sprained their ankle in the past are more likely to experience a repeated injury. If you’re one of these people, you may want to consider wearing ankle braces or athletic taping when exercising.
  4. Home Treatment:
    While many sprained ankles only require rest, ice, elevation, and time to heal, it’s hard to assess the extent of the damage at home. And ankles that don’t heal properly are more likely to become sprained in the future. Play it safe and see a doctor.
  5. See a Doctor?
    Tears in the ligament can worsen over time, so make sure you understand the severity of your injury. See a doctor, even if you suspect your sprain is minor. A doctor will do a physical examination and may order X-Rays or MRI’s to rule out other injuries. They may prescribe rest, a removable pneumatic walking cast, or even crutches until your sprain heals. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen may be prescribed to help to reduce inflammation and pain.

Hallux Valgus, or Bunions

  1. What is it?
    Pressure on the big toe forces it to lean in, causing a painful, bony bump over time on the inside of the foot. The big toe consists of two joints. The metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP), is the largest. It connects the first long bone of the foot (metatarsal) with the first bone of the big toe (phalanx). When phalanx is pushed inward, the MTP juts out to compensate, eventually protruding. Bunions make it challenging to walk or even wear shoes.
  2. Symptoms:
    The enlarged joint often rubs against footwear and becomes inflamed and painful. This bump is called a bunion. Bunions start small, but if the person continues to wear tight shoes or stands on their feet all day, the bunion will progress, grow larger, and become even more painful. In some cases, bunions lead to arthritis.
    In addition to the callus or bump on the side of the foot, look for redness, swelling, pain, tenderness, stiffness, and restricted movement in the big toe.
  3. Prevention:
    While some bunions are caused by tight footwear, some types of feet are predisposed to the condition. Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes with square toes and adequate width is the best for pain prevention. If your family has a history of bunions, it’s especially important to avoid tight shoes, pointed toes, or high heels. In some cases, orthotics can help prevent or correct bunions.
    If you have an inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis associated with gout, or a neuromuscular condition, special care may need to be taken to prevent bunions.
  4. Home Treatment:
    In the majority of cases, minor bunions can be rendered pain free with the proper footwear. Choose shoes with wide insteps, broad toes, and soft soles. Higher heels will put more pressure on the bunion and are not recommended. Watch out for bunion pads; they may be incorrectly sized and could make the bunion more painful.
  5. See a Doctor?
    If your bunion is an advanced case, if you have trouble walking without pain, or if your bunion is swollen and red, see a doctor. A medical professional can help you manage the pain and develop a long-term plan to deal with your condition. Your doctor may also prescribe orthotics designed to distribute the pressure more evenly to reduce pain. Unless your bunion is exceptionally painful and advanced, surgery is usually not recommended.

youth sports

Achilles Tendinitis

  1. What is it?
    When your Achilles tendon becomes inflamed, you will experience posterior heel pain. It may be a mild ache and could be tender to the touch. Sometimes the cause is small tears or calcium deposits within the tendon.
    In some cases, a bone spur develops on the heel where the tendon attached to the bone, causing pain.
  2. Symptoms:
    This type of posterior heel pain is most often experienced directly over the tendon.  Some also feel discomfort at the point where the tendon attaches to the heel bone (the calcaneus). The area will be tender to the touch. You may experience more severe pain and stiffness in the mornings. Some feel more discomfort the day after exercising. Swelling can occur and usually increases over the course of the day or after exercising.
  3. Prevention:
    This condition is usually the result of repetitive stress caused by pushing the body to do too much, too soon. Sudden increases in the amount or intensity of exercise can trigger Achilles tendinitis. To prevent injury, stretch before exercising, with particular attention to stretching and strengthening calf muscles. Increase your activity levels gradually to give your body and muscles time to stretch, adjust, and adapt to the new activities.
    Some cases of Achilles tendonitis is caused by bone spurs, a hereditary condition, and is not preventable.
  4. Home Treatment:
    Achilles tendonitis can be serious. If you suspect you have this injury, see a doctor.
  5. See a Doctor?
    A doctor will examine your foot and ankle, and may use imaging tests, MRIs or x-rays for a more accurate diagnosis. In most cases, a doctor can prescribe rest, ice, and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and posterior heel pain. They may also prescribe physical therapy and orthotics to strengthen calf muscles and reduce stress on the tendon. Recovery may take up to six months.
    In extreme cases, surgery may be required.

Heel Spurs and Bursitis

  1. What is it?
    Heels spurs are essentially “extra bone” that forms on top of normal bone. A calcaneal (heel bone) spur forms at the base of the Achilles tendon in the back of the heel. This bony prominence can grow over time.
    This extra bone can irritate the surrounding fluid-filled sacs, or bursa, that act as a cushion between the bones, tendons, joints, and muscles. There are several bursae behind the heel bone. When these become irritated, they result in inflammation and posterior heel pain, known as bursitis.
  2. Symptoms:
    As a heel spur grows, it will gradually move toward the surface of the skin. In extreme cases, it will break through the skin. Even if you can’t identify a bump, look for symptoms like inflammation, significant posterior heel pain, sharp discomfort when walking in the morning, tender to the touch, and general aching. Some feet with heel spurs or bursitis are hot to the touch. Some patients experience reduced loss of movement in the foot.
  3. Prevention:The most common cause of heel spurs and bursitis is overuse, sudden increases in activity, and poorly fitting shoes. Whether you’re walking, running, jumping, or dancing in the ballet, you can be prone to heel spurs and bursitis.
    Heel spurs and bursitis are more common in people 65+. People with flat feet or with jobs that require repetitive movement are also more likely to get heel spurs. In some cases, arthritis or gout may trigger the conditions.
    To reduce your chances of getting heel spurs or bursitis, wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes with square toes and adequate width. If your family has a history of heel spurs or bursitis, it’s especially important to avoid tight shoes, pointed toes, or high heels. In some cases, orthotics can help prevent pain associated with heel spurs.
    Avoid sudden increases in physical activity, and always allow time before exercising to stretch your calves completely.
  4. Home Treatment:
    Mild cases can be treated with rest, elevating your feet, ice, and investing in the proper footwear. Some people respond well to shoes with wedge heels. Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to help to reduce inflammation and posterior heel pain. Daily calf stretches will also help you heal and prevent injuries in the future.
  5. See a Doctor?
    Your doctor will examine your foot and heel to check for signs of tenderness, redness, or heat. They may use an MRI or X-Ray to rule out other types of injury and may test for infections. In some cases, steroid shots are used to reduce pain and inflammation. Your physician may prescribe custom orthotics and/or physical therapy.

soccer goalie feet

Sever’s Disease

  1. What is it?
    While it is called a disease, you can’t “catch” Sever’s disease. Also known as calcaneal apophysitis, it’s a swelling and irritation of the growth plate in the heel. In growing children, especially ages 9-14, this growth plate can be irritated by repetitive stress from children’s high-impact activities and sports. In rare cases, Sever’s disease is caused by standing too long and putting constant pressure on the heel.
  2. Symptoms:
    Children with Sever’s disease may experience pain in one or both heels, with swelling and redness. Heels may be stiff when first waking up, and walking in the morning may be difficult. Throughout the day, the child may limp or walk on toes. The heel will hurt when pressed from both sides.
  3. Prevention:
    Because this is an injury from activity, there are some things you can do to reduce your child’s likelihood of getting Sever’s disease. Make sure your child is wearing shoes and sneakers that fit well and have well-padded soles. Choose a shoe designed to protect the child’s feet and heel when playing the sport.
    Make sure your child knows how to stretch the calves and heels, and make sure they stretch thoroughly before exercising or sports. Icing heels after sports and strenuous activity will reduce chances of injury. Losing weight (if your child is overweight) may reduce the chances of getting Sever’s disease. Some children may need special orthotic inserts. Avoid wearing heavy boots or high heeled shoes.
    The growth plate is finished growing in most children after age 15. After that, your child will not get Sever’s disease.
  4. Home Treatment:
    Sever’s disease can be mistaken for other ailments. To prevent a misdiagnosis that may result in a more serious injury, get an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional.
  5. See a Doctor?
    Once correctly diagnosed, your health care provider may recommend a variety of treatments which can include ice packs, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, wearing supportive shoes or gel packs, wearing shoes that are open in the back to prevent heel pain, using compression stockings, using a walking boot, or even wearing a cast.
    Your doctor will require your child to rest and refrain from impact sports while the injury heals. Walking and non-weight bearing activities (like swimming) are often approved.
    In some cases, your child may need to attend physical therapy or complete home exercises to help stretch and strengthen.
    Recovery periods vary widely depending on the severity of the injury. Complete recovery usually takes 3 – 8 weeks. Usually, by age 15, the growth plate is finished growing. After that, your child won’t get Sever’s disease again.

foot and ankle health

Tips on How to Prevent Foot Pain

If you’ve read through all of this article, you will find that many conditions can be avoided by following a basic set of guidelines for good foot health. Although some conditions listed here can be hereditary and unpreventable, many are caused by circumstances which we can control. Here are some smart pointers to keep your feet in tip-top shape.

  1. Don’t Crowd Your Feet.

    Wearing tight shoes with pointed toes and high heels is one of the worst things you can do to your feet, and one of the easiest to avoid. Instead of going for painful styles, wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes with square toes and adequate width. Make sure the soles are cushioned. If your feet are sore or red when you take off your shoes, they may not fit properly.

  2. Don’t Be Scared of Orthotics

    Flat feet are more susceptible to many types of foot problems. And even people with good arches can benefit from the support that a good set of orthotics provides. While some over-the-counter products are good, if you suspect that you need more support, talk with your doctor to get custom orthotics made just for you.

  3. Stretch and Strengthen Your Calves, Ankles, and Feet

    Your feet, ankle and calf muscles, tendons, and bones are all interconnected. By stretching and strengthening this set of muscles, you protect yourself from a wide range of foot and heel issues. The stretches and exercises best suited to you will vary widely based on your age, size, fitness level, and health. Talk to a physical therapy expert to find out which exercises make the most sense for you and your needs.

  4. Don’t Give it All You’ve Got

    When you are beginning a new sport or exercise routine, it’s tempting to give it all you’ve got. But that’s rarely a good idea, no matter what age or fitness level you are at. Make sure you’re able to continue your new activities by avoiding exercise injuries. Ease into your new activity to give your joints, tendons, muscles, and bones a chance to adapt to the activity.

  5. Avoid Repetition

    Doing too much of any one thing can cause injuries. Whether it’s running, shooting, or even standing, small repeated stresses are the path to injury. Make sure you mix up your routine with a variety of exercises.

  6. Pay Attention to Pain

    Pain is a sign of injury. If you suspect you’ve injured your foot, don’t wait it out. Play it safe and see a doctor.

    Signs of severe foot, ankle, or heel injury include pain, swelling near your heel, inability to walk, inability to bend your foot forward, numbness, tingling, inability to rise on your toes, or any immobility in your toes, ankle, or feet. If you experience any of these signs, see a foot expert immediately.

    If you have mild heel pain that persists when you’re not walking or standing, or if you have pain that has lasted for more than a few weeks, even after rest, ice, and elevation, schedule an office visit with the medical professionals at Harford Lower Extremity Specialists to ensure you’re not suffering from a more serious injury.

Contact A Podiatric Doctor For Treatment

If you’re battling foot, ankle, or heel injury or you simply are experiencing pain, give Harford Lower Extremity Specialists a call at 410-836-0131 or click the Schedule An Appointment button below. Let us help you get back to an active life without pain.


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