What are the keys to foot and ankle health?

With the return of spring come April showers, May flowers and an uptick in injuries as people emerge from their winter habits. Ashley Lee, podiatrist at Northern Illinois Foot and Ankle Specialists' Hinsdale office, said the return to activities like pickleball, tennis, running, walking and youth sports results in an increase in visits to her office for treatment of sports-related injuries.

The surging popularity of pickleball has resulted in more patients suffering from injuries such as tendonitis, especially involving the Achilles tendon, Lee said. Also known as Achilles tendonitis, symptoms include stiffness on the back of the heel and lower leg after sitting. The feeling generally subsides during rest, but returns when activity resumes.

"It's caused by excessive stress on the Achilles tendon," Lee said, and is often caused by the short, rapid movements required of not only pickleball, but of tennis and paddle ball, as well.

Stretching before and after activity can help to prevent the injury, Lee said. She also recommends wearing the right shoes. Shoes designated for use on the court offer the stability needed for sudden movements and offer better protection from injury, she said.

Pain in the ball of the foot also can result from time spent on the pickleball or tennis court. The frequent pivoting required of the sports can result in metatarsalgia, or inflammation in the long bones in the front of the feet.

Initial treatments include rest, ice and elevation. But when those remedies don't work and the pain persists, a trip to the podiatrist might be in order, Lee said. Treatments might include shockwave therapy. Originally developed for treatment of kidney stones, shockwave is now being used to treat many injuries involving soft tissue, Lee said.

Before hitting the walking or running path, Lee suggests that runners make a trip to their closet.

"How old are your shoes?" Lee asked, stating that any shoe that shows signs of wear should be replaced. Even shoes that haven't been worn should be replaced within a year, as materials degrade even in storage, Lee said. She suggests starting a new season of walking or running with a new pair of shoes designed specifically for the activity.

As with pickleball and tennis, injuries of the Achilles tendon are common with runners and walkers. These activities also can cause conditions such as plantar fasciitis and shin splints.

"Stretching is the treatment for all of this," said Lee, emphasizing the importance of stretching before and after any activity.

Something as simple as alternating the side of the street for walks and runs also can help prevent injury. Lee said even a slight slope can cause stress and strain on one side of the body. Running on the center of the track or road, or frequently changing sides, can help reduce the risk of injury.

Along with stretching and wearing the proper shoes, Lee said getting enough vitamin D is important to keep bones healthy. Most people are deficient, she said, especially coming out of winter. And it's difficult to get enough of the vitamin through food. She suggests getting levels checked by a doctor and proceeding with a supplement, if necessary.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean