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Got a Foot or Ankle Injury?

This May Be Why

As integral parts of all of our daily lives, the foot and ankle are among the most commonly injured areas for athletes and active individuals. They are both highly complex structures that are essential for weight-bearing, balance and providing a wide range of mobility. Pain in the foot and ankle is relatively common and can range from minor discomfort to chronic conditions that may require treatment.

Foot & Ankle Anatomy

With 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles, the complexity of the foot and ankle region makes it vulnerable to injury, resulting in over one million injuries in the United States each year. 

There are three primary parts of the foot:

  1. Forefoot: phalanges (toes) and metatarsals 
  2. Midfoot: bones that creates the foot’s arches
  3. Hindfoot: bones that form the heel and the ankle

Similarly, the ankle is made of three main bones:

  1. Tibia: known as the shin bone, forms the bottom part of the joint on the inside of your ankle. 
  2. Fibula: the thin bone on the outside of your lower leg that supports the tibia. 
  3. Talus: one of the bones in your foot that forms the lower part of the ankle joint, transferring weight from the lower leg onto the foot. This is a part of the hindfoot.

The talus is located directly above the heel bone, known as the calcaneus. These bones are joined together at the subtalar joint, which enables the foot to rotate in both dorsiflexion and plantar flexion movements. 

Common Causes of Foot and Ankle Pain

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is a fairly common foot condition where the plantar fascia in the foot becomes stressed and inflamed. The plantar fascia is a long, thick tissue on the underside of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes, creating and supporting your foot’s arches. 

Although the plantar fascia is designed to absorb the stress and strains that we place on our feet, sometimes too much pressure can damage or tear the tissue. In response, the tissue becomes inflamed, resulting in heel pain and stiffness. Some risk factors that make you more vulnerable to developing plantar fasciitis are: 

  • Being overweight or obese
  • A high arch 
  • Activities that stress the foot
  • Repetitive motions like running or sports
  • Tight calf muscles

Plantar fasciitis can be treated non-surgically with physical therapy, supportive shoes, stretching, pain medications, ice and rest. 

Ankle Sprain

One of the most common ankle injuries in the United States, an ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments in the joint stretch and tear. Ankle sprains range from mild to severe, depending on the damage to the ligaments and are classified into three grades: 

  • Grade 1: least severe sprain, where the ankle’s lateral ligaments have stretched without tearing
  • Grade 2: partial tearing of one of more of the ligaments
  • Grade 3: most severe sprain, when all the ligaments are completely torn

Symptoms of a sprained ankle include: 

  • Pain
  • Inability to put weight on the affected ankle
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Popping sound at the time of injury
  • Tenderness

It is important to adequately treat your ankle sprain, as 75% of initial ankle sprains lead to further sprains and chronic symptoms. If the sprain is mild, you should elevate the affected ankle, get lots of rest, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen, wrap the ankle and apply ice for 20-30 minute intervals. For a more severe ankle sprain, it is recommended to see a physician so that they can prescribe a form of functional support or consider surgical intervention. 

Achilles Tendonitis

The achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body, located in the back of the heel. The achilles connects the heel bone to the calf muscles, allowing us to walk, run, climb stairs, jump and stand on our tiptoes. Achilles tendonitis occurs when the tendon becomes irritated or inflamed, typically due to repetitive stress. Other causes of achilles tendonitis are: 

  • Sudden increase in amount of activity
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Bone spurs: extra bone growths can rub against the tendon, causing pain

Although pain, stiffness and swelling of the tendon are common symptoms of achilles tendonitis, you should see a physician if you hear a sudden “pop” in the back of your calf or heel. This may indicate that your achilles has ruptured or torn. 

Physical Therapy Treatments for the Foot and Ankle

Fortunately, physical therapy may reduce many of the painful symptoms associated with the foot and ankle. Whether you are an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, our certified doctors of physical therapy are ready to help you regain mobility and live pain-free. 

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