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Five tips to prevent foot and ankle injuries

A female runner holds her ankle in pain with a black man and middle-aged woman looking to assist. Adam Bitterman, MD, highlights five ways you can prevent foot and ankle injuries.

Finding comfortable shoes and exercising on the right surfaces can play prime role in saving you from sprains and fractures

We’ve all done it.

Deep into exercise, you inadvertently misstep and bowl over in pain. Holding your ankle just won’t cut it. The pain is that excruciating.

Yup, you’ve rolled your ankle. And depending on the severity, it could take weeks before you can resume normal activity.

Foot and ankle injuries are very common in today’s very active world. In fact, it’s estimated that 45 percent of injuries that present in primary care offices and in emergency departments are ankle sprains.

Stay on your feet with these five preventive tips.

1. Wear the right shoes

Find shoes with wide, supportive soles that offer adequate support. This minimizes the risk of slipping or rolling your ankle while walking and running. Make sure your toes have plenty of room. Shoes that are too narrow contribute to crowding within the toe box, which can lead to angular deformities of the toes.

If you have low arches, select a shoe that supports the front of your feet as well as the arch. The back of the shoe should be stable. Stiffer feet with higher arches need more cushion — like cross trainers — to absorb the impact from walking/running.

You should replace your shoes once you begin to see signs of wear. Some recommend swapping shoes after walking or running 300-500 miles in them, or more than 50 hours of more intense activity, such as basketball, aerobic dance or tennis.

2. Find flat earth

Stick to solid ground when you can. Running or walking on uneven surfaces increases your risk of ankle injuries.

While uphill running is quite the workout, you need to gradually prepare yourself to take on the more difficult hills. Running downhill can pose an issue if going too fast. Also, running on abnormal terrain when the muscles are not in top shape can lead to fatigue and further risk of injury.

Pick a good surface if available — dirt is softer than asphalt, which is softer than concrete. If you are training on rough terrains with gravel or grueling hills, be careful of obstacles, such as rocky land, tree stumps, roots and bushes.

Always try to train on the surface you will be racing on for familiarity and to avoid serious injury when going full speed.

3. Exercise your feet and ankles

Exercise is key to strengthening all areas of the body, including ankle joints. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends wall-based heel cord stretches, calf raises or using a resistance band to stretch your calf and to point and flex your toes.

Before training, lightly stretch to warm up. A moderate two-minute jog will also help. Increase the time of your exercise as you become stronger, but don’t overdo it.

4. Understand the difference between fractures and sprains

If you do injure yourself, make sure you find the right care. If your pain is bearable, you can manage the injury at home with over-the-counter medications and a following RICE:

  • Resting
  • Icing your ankle for up to 20 minutes every two to four hours until swelling starts to subside
  • Compressing the ankle by wrapping it an elastic bandage
  • Elevating the foot and ankle

Get an X-ray if you can’t put weight on your foot or if your symptoms persist despite at-home care. Ankle sprains can increase your risk for future falls because they may tear or overstretch the ligaments responsible for stabilizing the joint.

If your pain doesn’t get better after initial treatment with RICE, then schedule an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon.

5. Take action

Your body knows best. Listen to it. If you have any pain during activity, stop immediately. Try modifying (but don’t compensate) to see if the pain will subside. If not, you most likely need medical care.

While recovering from injury, it’s essential to endure rehabilitation and additional training, as per your doctor, to reduce the occurrence of another injury.

Adam Bitterman, DO, is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the treatment of foot and ankle conditions at Huntington Hospital and Northwell Health Physicians Partners.

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