Athletes are particularly susceptible to a variety of common sports injuries. These injuries can result from mishaps on the playing field, but also from repetitive movements and overuse. Here we discuss three of the most common foot injuries reported by athletes.
One in ten sports-related injuries can be attributed to stress fractures. Stress fractures, sometimes known as “hairline factures,” happen when repetitive motion or shock is absorbed by the bone instead of the muscle. Over time, the bone develops a thin but painful crack which may not show up on X-rays right away. Common stress fractures of the foot occur in the heel, talus (a bone in the ankle), the navicular (the top bone in the center of the foot), and in the fibula (one of the bones of the ankle and lower leg). Stress fractures of the feet occur in runners, jumpers, climbers, and practitioners of contact sports. Stress fractures are usually accompanied by moderate swelling, as well as pain when the fractured bone must bear weight. Most of these types of fractures are detected in X-rays four to six weeks after the original injury, since by that point a callus forms over the crack in the bone, which can be detected on the X-ray. Stress fractures can be treated with ice, rest, and in severe or repeat cases, immobilization, and recovery commonly takes about 12 weeks.
The injury known as “turf-toe” is simply a ligament sprain under the base of the big toe. This occurs after the toe is flexed upwards too vigorously during running or jumping activities, as well as many forms of martial arts. Generally, this over-flexion happens because shoes are gripping the running surface too hard or have very flexible soles, creating the risk that a person’s body weight will shift forward onto their toe before they can make the appropriate “springing” motion from the ball of the foot. The ligament sprain can also cause damage to the surface of the bone, so an X-ray is usually recommended to verify that turf-toe isn’t hiding a fracture. Turf-toe does require some rest, but stabilization is key: those who continue activities with turf-toe should at least consider taping to support and immobilize the joint.
Achilles Tendon Bursitis and Tendonitis
Bursitis and tendonitis of the Achilles tendon often occur together, especially among runners. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa, a packet of fluid cushioning the tendon. Tendonitis is a separate condition in which overuse of the tendon causes inflammation or degeneration. Both injuries are associated with pain and swelling at the back of the heel and behind the ankle, especially when walking or running on soft surfaces and uphill. Achilles tendon bursitis is often mistaken for tendonitis, but its treatment is very different. A foot specialist or sports doctor will usually recommend cold compresses, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications. While acute tendonitis is treated in much the same way, chronic Achilles tendonitis may be treated with a long-term exercise regimen.