Foot and ankle problems will affect most people at some point during their lives. After all, these lower-leg structures bear a lot of weight and force, especially during activities like running, dancing, and jumping.
The human foot is comprised of many parts, including bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and other soft tissues—not to mention toenails, blood vessels, and skin. Each one of these components could contribute to foot pain—either directly or indirectly. To make things even more complicated, the root cause of the issue could be anything from overuse (i.e., too much or too intense exercise) to wearing the wrong shoes.
Common foot injuries include:
- Achilles tendonitis: This condition typically presents as pain above, in, and below the heel, which is the insertion point for the Achilles tendon. It results from irritation and inflammation of the tendon, often caused by overuse or poor footwear.
- Plantar fasciitis: Common among athletes, plantar fasciitis presents as pain along the bottom or the foot and heel. It occurs when the plantar fascia—a band of tissue connecting the heel to the toes—becomes irritated and inflamed, typically due to overuse or poor, unsupportive footwear.
- Metatarsalgia: Pain and inflammation in the forefoot often is typically categorized as metatarsalgia. It often results from overuse.
- Turf toe: This condition is caused by sprains in the ligaments of the big toe joint. It is common among athletes, including football and soccer players.
- Stress fractures: Excessive and repetitive force (i.e., from running or jumping) can cause tiny, painful breaks in the bones of the foot or ankle. These are known as stress fractures.
The ankle is especially prone to sprains, strains, and fractures—particularly when a person runs or jumps and then lands at an awkward or unnatural angle. Once you’ve suffered an ankle injury, you are anywhere from 40% to 70% more likely to suffer another one. That’s why it’s so important to properly rehabilitate any ankle injury and address areas of weakness or instability that may increase a person’s risk of re-injury.
Whether you’re dealing with a foot injury or an ankle issue, a physical therapist can help you restore function and range of motion and decrease pain and inflammation. To do so, he or she will assess the extent of your injury and identify the cause and any compounding factors; then, the therapist will work with you to create a personalized care plan designed to help you reach your goals and resume normal activity.
These rehab programs may include:
- Non-weight bearing exercises (in the early stages of therapy)
- Weight-bearing strengthening exercises (once the patient has progressed enough to safely perform such exercises)
- Hot-cold therapy
- Dry needling
- Scraping (i.e., Graston)
- Massage/manual therapy
- Corrective footwear (e.g., orthotics)
The therapist will also create a home exercise program to help you maintain consistency between appointments. Additionally, he or she may help you design an alternative training/conditioning program that will keep you from sustaining further injury (i.e., if you’re an athlete preparing for an upcoming competitive season or event). For example, runners who have sustained stress fractures may be directed to non-weight-bearing aerobic exercise like aqua-jogging.
Because there’s such a wide variety of foot and ankle injuries, it’s tough to say for certain how long it will take for a patient to fully rehabilitate. Nagging issues like plantar fasciitis may not completely subside for several months, whereas more acute injuries like ankle strains may heal within a few weeks. The important thing is to stick to your care plan and follow your therapist’s recommendations and instructions.