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Preventing Common Foot and Ankle Issues

Unrecognizable tennis player on the court cleaning his sneakers from dirt with a racket.

By Ketan B. Patel, DPM, FACFAS

We live in a very health-conscious society, so why is it that many Americans routinely overlook one of the cornerstones of good health? While nearly 70 percent of Americans say they want to be healthier five years from now, just 51 percent recognize that foot health can be a key to achieving that goal, according to a survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer not just some common ways to avoid common foot and ankle problems, but also some best practices or prevention keys to avoid injuries on and off the court.

Nail problems are one of the most prevalent foot woes in both men and women. These troubles can range from ingrown toenails to fungal infections. An ingrown toenail – a condition in which the corners of the sides of a nail dig painfully into the soft tissue of the nail grooves – is the most common form of nail problem.

Prevention Key

With ingrown toenails, trim nails straight across and don’t dig into the corners. Those with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease and other circulatory disorders should seek a podiatrist’s care on a regular basis to help prevent complications. Avoiding fungal nail conditions can be as simple as keeping athlete’s foot under control and practicing good “shoe hygiene.” What is shoe hygiene, you may ask? Keep reading; that’s coming up next.

Sweaty feet (hyperhydrosis) and foot odor (malodor) are two different types of foot conditions that are often experienced together. While malodor of the feet can be potentially embarrassing, hyperhydrosis is commonly the culprit. The increased moisture in a closed environment like shoes can breed bacterial growth, which results in the odor. This very same moist environment also is a great place for fungus to grow as well, resulting in athlete’s foot infections.

Prevention Key

Practice good foot and shoe hygiene by keeping your feet and shoes as dry as possible. Wash your feet daily with soap and water, keep shoes and socks dry and choose socks that wick away moisture. Change your shoes and socks regularly and consider rubbing cornstarch or applying antiperspirant directly onto the soles of your feet to keep them dry. Another tip is to sprinkle your favorite powder (i.e. baby, Gold Bond) into your socks to keep the feet dry. Consider letting your shoes air out in the sunlight on your off days; the UV light is a disinfectant and the residual moisture that leads to odor will go away.

Pain in the heels or pain in the balls of the feet are known respectively as plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia. Over-exertion, injury or ill-fitting shoes can cause pain in these locations. Commonly, the loss of flexibility in the lower extremities can contribute as well.

Prevention Key

To avoid pain, always wear well-fitting, supportive, activity-appropriate shoes when walking, running or engaging in other physical activity. If necessary, replace the insoles that came in your shoes with ones that provide additional cushioning and arch support. Insoles are a prevention key for one to consider in general. Remember: always be sure to warm up and stretch properly before and after exercise.

Bunions – A bunion is an enlargement and misalignment of the joint at the base of the big toe. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent a genetic deformity, but there are certain measures one can take to avoid these deformities becoming a problem.

Prevention Key

Treatments range from self-remedies such as using a bunion pad around the bony prominence, ice packs to reduce the swelling and avoiding shoes that could irritate the bunion and even make the problem worse.

General considerations for injury prevention are always basic ones that we all know, but sometimes don’t pay attention to or take the time to do. A few examples are as follows:

  • If we are hurting while exercising or playing a match, our body is telling us that we need rest. So, when you get the message, listen to it. Resting a sore joint and not pushing it sometimes makes the difference from an issue becoming a surgical problem.
  • Remember: when we do get joint and muscle pain – as mild as it may be – always treat it. Remember the old first-aid mnemonic: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE) therapy.
  • Providing rest periods between workout days for recovery is essential. Consider cross-training to avoid repetitive movements and mechanics that lead to overuse and strain on back-to-back days of training. Always plan a couple of days of rest in a heavy workout week.
  • This one I dedicate to my old track coach: warming up, stretching and flexibility are the keys to injury prevention. It’s crucial to spend five to 10 minutes before and after workouts and matches to stretch and warm up/cool down. Consider adding a yoga program to your workout routine and training for the long, rigorous ALTA season. Maybe even consider incorporating yoga during your off days or low-impact days. Thanks, Coach Beatty!

I wish everyone a great spring and many more aces in their game!

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