Foot and ankle problems. We've all been there. You miss a few steps, you fall, you're up, you think you're OK, until you stand up and realize that your ankle is really hurting. Sprained. Time to grab the ACE wrap bandage, ice and head to the couch. I feel like this is how I spent most of my tween/teenage years.
I've been accident-prone my entire life, and rolling my ankle seemed to be an ongoing injury. Foot and ankles issues are inevitable, it seems, and to learn more about these problems, I checked in with Dr. Jeffrey K. Wu, a board-certified foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon with The Christ Hospital Joint & Spine Physicians.
Are foot and ankle injuries common?
Foot and ankle injuries are super common, and it doesn't take much. Something as easy as missing just one step, the edge of the sidewalk, stepping wrong over a curb, a small hole in the lawn can cause an injury. And don't I know it—I've been out walking the dog and have fallen into quite a few mole holes.
You have to pay extra attention, though, because the same type of injury can also cause more than a sprain — it can also be a fracture. Dr. Wu said, “The most common fractures in the ankle involve the end of the fibula (ankle) bone, and, in the foot, it is the fifth metatarsal bone. There are also soft tissue injuries, such as Achilles tendon tears or ruptures. Those tend to be non-contact injuries in sports like basketball and soccer."
What are some treatments for foot problems?
There are lots of common treatments for foot problems. Dr. Wu said, “For any kind of injury or acute foot pain, we start off with trying to help the mechanics of the foot. A walking boot is often used just to temporize things and help with pain. Beyond that, it is all very dependent on the issue. Many times, the initial treatment is modifying the activities or the shoes. There are lots of orthotic and arch support options available now."
But when it comes to advice on what to do about foot and ankle pain, Dr. Wu said, “Pain is the main factor in determining treatment and whether surgery is warranted. It's also very difficult to just look at pain as a number or on a scale from 1-10. It's more useful to assess the impact on a patient's life and day-to-day activity. When trying to decide on treatment options, the daily impact is what helps me guide patients on what to do."
What type of footwear is best?
We all have that pair of shoes that physically pains us to wear. For me, it's high heels! If I never have to wear those again, it's still too soon. Footwear and pain don't have to go together. You should be wearing reasonable footwear and what makes you comfortable.
Dr. Wu says if you want to find a good shoe, look for the amount of space (or the toe box area), the support in the arch, and the stability or stiffness of the sole of the shoe. So many factors come into play—the alignment of your feet, whether you have “deformities" such as bunions and hammertoes and the activity or type of work that you do. No matter what you do, you must be mindful that the shoes are appropriate for your feet and for your lifestyle.
When it comes to embarrassing foot issues like bunions and hammertoes, wearing shoes and daily living can be difficult. Dr. Wu wanted to let everyone know, “There's a difference between problems being 'embarrassing' and problems causing pain. I can certainly understand the appearance issues with bunions and hammertoes, but I never would recommend surgery just for appearances. However, bunions and hammertoes can cause a lot of pain."
“There are over-the-counter pads and devices that can be used to alleviate the pain," Dr. Wu continues. “They won't correct the problem, but they can make it much more tolerable. Finding shoes with a wider toe box is helpful. Shoes can be stretched out sometimes. The material of the shoe can be important (avoiding too much stitching or seams is important for bunions). Shoes with a stiffer sole are better if you have pain in the 'ball of the foot' or if you have arthritis in the foot."