The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Top 3 Spring Sports Injuries of the Foot & Ankle

Posted by on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

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New York City high school students are gearing up for the spring sports season, and for those who made the cut, the warmer weather has athletes imagining their first official competitions against rivals at other schools. Trainers and coaches do their best to ensure the health and livelihood of their teams, but nothing beats the level of individualized care you receive from a sports medicine doctor.

Here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine, with offices in Manhattan and Westchester, we don’t just see students after a serious injury has occurred–we also see students at the start of the season to conduct a full physical, assess biomechanics, and identify ways of preventing injury. For those who do come in with injuries during the spring sports season, we tend to see a lot of the same–Achilles tendon ruptures, stress fractures, and ankle sprains.

spring sports injuries
Achilles tendon ruptures are among the most prevalent spring sports injuries. | Image Source: LERMagazine.com

Achilles Tendon Ruptures

The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone, and gets a lot of use during walking, running and jumping. A rupture occurs when the soft tissue fibers have completely torn, typically during sudden changes in direction, movement, or forceful landing. If you hear a “pop” and feel like you’ve been shot in the back of the ankle, then it’s probably an Achilles rupture.

Sports: Researchers estimate 80 percent of Achilles tendon ruptures are directly related to recreational sports. We see most of the Achilles tendon ruptures among track-and-field athletes, but tennis players are also prone to these injuries.

Treatment: Sometimes we may opt to cast a patient, but surgery is often necessary to repair a completely damaged tendon in a young, active patient who wishes to return to sports. You may be well enough to return to low-intensity training and practice in six to nine months, but expect the full recovery to take about a year. Our experienced, board-certified surgeons have done thousands of procedures, so you are in good hands with us!

Prevention: There are few risk factors for young athletes, though it seems that overweight males participating in the aforementioned sports are at higher risk. Even so, we make sure the athletes we see regularly stay proactive by utilizing stretching, plyometrics training, and calf raise exercises to strengthen this part of the body. Hydration, protein intake, and taking appropriate time for rest and recovery are all important aspects of sports participation we stress. We also look for early signs of tendon weakness like pain, swelling, and redness.

Stress Fractures

Pounding the pavement day after day on hard surfaces and overworking the bones with a heavy workload can lead to small cracks in the bone called stress fractures. A stress fracture may occur in the tibia, fibula, metatarsal, or calcaneus bones. If you feel an increasing amount of pain as you run and a throbbing after your run, accompanied by swelling, then you may have a stress fracture.

Sports: Runners are the most prone to stress fractures.

Treatment: First we can diagnose the extent of the injury using MRI scans. We’ll outfit you with a hard-soled shoe, boot, or cast during your recovery, and guide you through low-impact exercises like swimming and elliptical training while your bones heal. Most foot and ankle stress fractures heal non-operatively within 6 to 12 weeks. In the rare event of nonunion–where healing is delayed and the bones don’t join back together–surgical insertion of temporary screws may be needed. If necessary, we can fit you with custom 3-D printed orthotics to reduce stress.

Prevention: You may be at increased risk for stress fracture if you have very high arches, if you’ve suffered a metatarsal fracture in the past, or if you have hormonal imbalances like hyperthyroidism or amenorrhea. Women with smaller calf muscles seem especially prone to injury, as do runners with low stride frequency. Smokers, alcohol users, and athletes who aren’t eating right are also at increased risk. We work with patients to choose the right footwear, eat right, and train smart. Our gait analysis center is the perfect way to assess your gait to identify biomechanical risk factors for injury, that can then be corrected through training and coaching with one of our sports medicine doctors.

Ankle Sprains

Sprains involve an overstretching or tearing of the ankle ligaments that hold your bones in place. With a sprain, you may or may not be able to bear weight on it. Common symptoms include swelling, pain, tenderness, bruising–all the same symptoms of a fracture. The only way to know for certain is to take diagnostic imaging of the tissue.

Sports: Ankle sprains represent 21% of all female and 16% of all male lacrosse injuries. Baseball players tend to sprain an ankle running over pitted fields to catch a ball or sliding in hard to a base. Tennis, racquetball and soccer players are also frequently seen for springtime sprains.

Treatment: Treatment begins with diagnosis and immobilization, followed by strength training, low-impact cross-training, and balance training. The importance of getting the right diagnosis cannot be overstated, as fractures present many of the same symptoms but require a different type of immobilization for successful healing. Furthermore, sprains that are not treated properly from the beginning result in chronic instability and weakness that can persist for many months. In advanced cases, platelet-rich plasma injections may be recommended to expedite the body’s natural healing processes. Expect a six- to ten-week recovery, with three months off from full-intensity sports.

Prevention: As Dave Heidloff of Athletico Physical Therapy explains, there are five key ways to reduce the likelihood of suffering a sprain: balance training, ankle strengthening, flexibility improvement, taping/bracing, and risk assessment–in other words, slowly ramping up your activity level when you are truly ready. It’s also essential that you buy the right type of shoes for the sport you’re doing–we treat a number of patients playing tennis in running sneakers that were not designed for a lot of lateral movement. If you’ve suffered an ankle injury in the past, it certainly doesn’t hurt to use an ankle brace for added stability when you return to action.

The Center For Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC can help you prevent and treat these common springtime sports injuries, so contact us right away to set up an appointment with one of our experienced sports medicine doctors.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.