FROM THE GROUND UP
The Foot and Ankle Demystified
The human foot and ankle are “quite literally” where the rubber hits the road.
For most of our life, we rely solely (irony inserted) on these small areas of our body to take us wherever we go.
The foot is specially designed to provide us with so many qualities we often take for granted.
The arch of your foot along with your heel-cord (Achilles tendon) gives you the spring in your step and helps you turn the energy of your foot hitting the ground into pushing you forward. The big toe is a large part of how we maintain our balance and get a strong push-off when sprinting or pushing to go up steps or hills. Our toes give us grip, and the flexible nature of our foot helps us adjust to turning and uneven surfaces. We use these miraculous parts to squat, jump, climb, swim and dance, among many things.
What if we begin to experience pain, weakness, swelling or a loss of trust in these body parts?
Like many other body parts, when they betray us, it severely impacts our sense of control, comfort and confidence in our everyday activities.
Let’s jump (more irony) into some common injuries and syndromes of the foot and ankle that I see often as a physical therapist so I can demystify some of the confusion and set you on a path for healing and quick resolution.
Ankle sprains: An overstretch injury of ligament(s) – think “rolling” your ankle. Ligaments hold the bones of the foot/ankle in place When these get injured, the “ouch” can lead to a chronically unstable ankle. Three keys to resolution: Stabilize the ankle, strengthen the muscles, protect from reinjury.
Tendonitis of the foot/ankle: An overstretch or repeated overloading force of your muscle(s) or tendon(s) you couldn’t quite handle – usually results in swelling, pain, weakness and limited tolerance or walking on your foot. Three keys to resolutions: Ice, brace until healed, strengthen the calves/ankles.
Plantar fasciitis/heel spurs: Most frequently felt as heel pain, first steps after resting or waking up in the morning usually the worst, can ease and then worsen later in the day. Progressively worsens despite changes in footwear or stretching. Shoe inserts may or may not help. Three keys to resolution: calf/ heel cord stretch, don’t overstretch planter fascia, ice.
Arthritis of joints (big toe, ball of foot, mid-foot or toes): Often felt as stiffness and achy pains and some thinning of fatty cushioned portions of the foot. This can result in some impact forces causing more damage. Sometimes the toes start to “drift” toward the outside edge of the foot or see changes in how the toes lie flat (become more bent or curved). Three keys to resolution: Gentle movement, strengthen, support orthotics (favor softer over harder).
Flat feet (pes planus): This condition begs questions from many patients about shoe inserts and what they can do about the foot pain. No arch support will change this condition, so that’s a no-no.
Think more contact with the bottom of the foot with the ground, not comfortable! The arch has fallen, and the inner ankle tends to overstretch and crowd the outer ankle. Three keys to resolution: Support (brace the ankle), strengthen, shoe inserts (provide pressure point relief).
Swelling (foot and ankle): This is usually a sign of something happening; it’s best to get to the bottom of the “why.” Common reasons I see are circulatory (vein incompetence); local joint inflammation in the knee, ankle or some recent fall trauma; history of some cardiovascular (heart/circulatory) condition that is needing careful management. My favorite form of treatment follows RICE (Rest/ Ice/Compression/Elevation). Other things are calf-wraps/ankle wraps that I recommend from a specific vendor. Three keys to resolution: Evaluation, medical management, compression therapy.
As with any of my recommendations in the Three Keys for Resolution before using any of these, always seek the advice of your family doctor and trusted physical therapist to ensure these are safe for your specific medical history and conditions.
The reality here is we only have one set of these wonderful creations that carry us thru the world. Care and maintenance of our feet and ankles are something that pays us back in countless ways. Don’t suffer needlessly.
Seek help so that your steps will outnumber the stars. May God bless.
Dr. Gregory Redmond, physical therapist, owner, Eberhardt Physical Therapy, Nutrition and Wellness Clinic. Call or visit: 318.222.7442, www. eberhardtpt.com.