Did you know that your foot-ankle complex contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and a network of more than 100 different tendons, ligaments, and muscles? With the important and sometimes stressful task of bearing your full body weight every day, your feet are incredibly strong, flexible, and stable.
While it may seem unbelievable, your feet will cover close to 75,000 miles by the time you turn 50. Along the way, they’re prone to a wide range of injuries and biomechanical problems.
At Complete Foot & Ankle, we see common foot injuries almost daily. Some are sports-related and some are caused by repeated stress. Here’s a list of the most routine types of foot trauma, along with the treatments that facilitate optimal recovery.
If your first few steps of the day are marred by stabbing heel pain, you may have plantar fasciitis, a common overuse injury that impacts the sole of your foot. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the thick band of tissue connecting your heel to your toes sustains repetitive, microscopic tears that cause collagen deterioration and acute inflammation.
At first, plantar fasciitis trauma usually causes mild to moderate heel pain that gets better with movement. You’re more likely to experience your worst symptoms during your first few steps of the day, or when you stand after prolonged periods of sitting. Most people don’t experience symptoms when they exercise.
Plantar fasciitis is a treatable problem that usually responds well to conservative measures, especially when it’s diagnosed early on. Rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and fascia-specific stretching techniques can help reduce swelling and promote healing.
Once the inflammation is under control, therapeutic stretches can keep your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon flexible, while exercises that strengthen your lower leg muscles can help stabilize your ankle and heel. You may also benefit from custom-fitted arch supports and shoe recommendations based on your foot type, body type, and activities.
As the largest bone in your foot, your heel often bears the full force of excess wear and tear caused by intense activity or poor foot mechanics. Over time, this can lead to the development of a heel spur — a bony protrusion that occurs on the underside of your heel bone. While heel spurs often cause acute or chronic heel pain, not all heel spurs cause discomfort.
Some adults develop heel spurs after living with untreated plantar fasciitis for too long, and about half of all people with plantar fasciitis also have heel spurs, too. The bony growth can also be caused by repeated muscle and ligament strain. Activities that place intense pressure on your feet, such as running, jogging, or dancing, are associated with heel spurs.
While surgical treatment may be beneficial for severe cases, most heel spurs respond well to the same conservative measures used to treat plantar fasciitis, including rest and ice, anti-inflammatory medications, specific stretching and strengthening exercises, custom shoe orthotics, and personalized footwear.
Any sprain or strain involving the soft tissues in your foot can cause immediate pain that requires prompt attention. In some cases, a presumed sprain actually turns out to be a bone fracture. Stubbed toes that bruise, swell, and remain painful for days may also actually be fractured.
About 10% of all bone fractures occur in the foot. The small bones in your feet are especially susceptible to stress fractures, or tiny cracks in the bone commonly caused by overuse or a sudden increase in activity. Stress fractures can cause pain and swelling that gradually worsen over time.
While stress fractures in the foot are most often the result of doing more than your bones have already adapted to withstand, repetitive activities that place a lot of stress on your feet, including running and jumping sports, can also cause stress fractures.
Rest, ice, and elevation are often the best treatments for broken toes, which tend to heal well without further medical intervention. For stress fractures in the foot caused by overuse, it’s important to rest from the activity that caused the trauma for several weeks. In many cases, low-impact exercise, like swimming and cycling, is still a viable option.
Wearing a stiff shoe insert or a boot can help you heal faster, as can using crutches to keep weight off your foot.
A neuroma is a thickening of tissue around a nerve that causes irritation and swelling of the nerve. Morton’s neuroma, which occurs where the ball of your foot meets your toes, is relatively common in people who walk a lot, particularly if their shoes are overly worn or otherwise inadequate. It occurs most often between the third and fourth toes and is generally caused by excessive pressure, irritation, or trauma.
Women and men affected by Morton’s neuroma often say the persistent pain in the ball of their foot feels like they’re constantly walking on a marble. Women are 10 times more likely than men to develop the problem.
While Morton’s neuroma doesn’t usually cause a noticeable lump, it does cause burning pain or numbness in the ball of your foot that radiates into your toes. These unpleasant sensations typically intensify with activity, or while wearing tight or high-heeled shoes.
Initially, a corticosteroid injection can bring relief by helping to reduce swelling and nerve inflammation. Long-term, Morton’s neuroma can often be successfully resolved by wearing the right shoes — wide shoes with lower heels and a soft sole, rather than high heels with a tight toe box. Wearing custom orthotic inserts can also help alleviate irritation by reducing the pressure on the affected nerve.
Comprehensive foot care you can trust
These are just some of the injuries that can affect your feet. Any trauma that involves your ankle, including ankle sprains, strains, fractures, and Achilles tendonitis, can also impact your foot.
If you’re experiencing unexplained foot pain, we can help. With years of collective experience, our team of experts can diagnose any type of foot or ankle trauma and provide effective treatments to get you back on your feet. Call our offices in Newark or Ridgewood, New Jersey, or schedule an appointment online.