Our feet and ankles are the foundation for most of our activity. They allow us to walk, to play, to exercise, to get where we want to go and to maintain our independence. All of those things are important — not just for our physical health, but also for our mental health, our happiness and our overall well-being.
Your feet and ankles work hard to support you. Here are five ways you can support them, in return, so you can keep putting your best foot forward.
Tight calf muscles lead to abnormal foot mechanics and are one of the most common triggers for foot and ankle injuries. We frequently see stress fractures and tendinitis in people who haven’t adequately stretched those muscles.
So it sounds simple, but one of the best ways to avoid foot and ankle problems is to stretch your calves. The classic runner’s stretch, in particular — where you put both hands on the wall, bring one foot forward and lean in to feel a stretch down your calf — goes a long way toward protecting your feet and ankles. Try to do this stretch once or twice a day, holding each stretch for about a minute. Hamstring stretches can be helpful, too. You can find “how to” photos of both of these stretches online.
There is debate about whether it’s better to stretch before or after activity; I recommend both, but if you have to choose one, I’d stretch before activity.
Go easy on new activities.
Jumping into a high-impact activity that you’ve never done before, such as barefoot running, can lead to injuries, especially if you’re a little older and less flexible than you once were. Even if you are a distance runner, making the transition from shoes to bare feet too quickly may be more than your feet and ankles can handle. Taking up any new sport is a process, and your body needs time to condition and adjust. Give it the time it needs.
Along those lines, no matter how long you’ve been engaged in your sport, it’s always important to warm up by starting at a lower intensity before pushing yourself to your maximum effort.
Choose the right shoes.
Different types of feet and activities require different shoes for optimal performance and protection. How do you know which shoes to choose? Portland has many great shoe stores with highly skilled fit technicians, and these are great places to start. But people often bring their questions — and sometimes bags of shoes — to my office, and I’m happy to offer advice.
Pay attention to pain.
If you’re having some minor pain, but you can still walk and bear weight on your foot and ankle, then it’s probably OK to try “walking it off” to see if it feels better. But if you can’t walk on it or if the pain is severe, prolonged or affecting your activities, don’t tough it out and risk further injury — have a doctor look at it.
Repeat sprains? Don’t roll with it.
For some people, all it takes is one bad sprain to damage the joint, destabilize the ankle and set up a tendency to roll the ankle easily in the future. If you’ve had multiple sprains or you seem to roll your ankle all the time, getting a doctor’s evaluation sooner rather than later could save your ankle joint. An unstable ankle puts mechanical stress on the joint surface. Research shows that having surgery to tighten up the injured ligaments and stabilize the ankle can prevent arthritis down the road.
Dr. Holm is board-certified in foot surgery and reconstructive rearfoot and ankle surgery by The American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery. He sees patients at our Downtown and Tigard locations.