Here’s the simple truth:
Most of us don’t move around nearly as much as we should.
Technology has always served to make life easier, more convenient—and the past century or so has really amplified this mission. After all, we’re at a point where you can order just about anything you need from the comfort of your couch, and it won’t be too much longer until we have cars that drive us around (without us needing to actually drive them).
There are undoubtedly benefits to technological advancements. Working in the medical field, it’s easy to see how various technologies have improved the way we are able to treat patients.
That being said, it also means that we have to be more mindful of making sure we are getting enough physical activity.
Even though we don’t have to go out hunting and gathering like our ancestors did, our bodies are still designed in such a way that movement is important for our overall health and wellbeing.
You have many options when it comes to exercising, but one that has always been—and probably always will be—quite popular is running.
Running played an important role in human development. You might not be aware of this, but our capacity for long-distance running actually helped our ancestors hunt in a way you might not expect.
Thousands of years ago, humans would outrun animals that were much faster over short distances. The problem for the animals, however, was that they didn’t have the same endurance as persistent humans chasing them. So they would sprint, then stop to rest—only to have their rest interrupted once they heard the humans approaching.
After expending so much energy, they would ultimately “give up the ghost” for good.
Early humans benefited from the protein in their diet—something some current anthropologists believe contributed to the development of the human brain. Essentially, running might very well have played an integral role in the intellectual capabilities that have allowed us to land on the moon.
Kind of interesting to think about, huh?
Now, you most likely don’t go out chasing deer by foot to feed your family, but there are still many people who run on a regular basis. And why wouldn’t they? It’s an activity that our bodies are perfectly equipped to do.
Beyond the connection to our very nature, running is an outstanding form of exercise. It improves your cardiovascular performance, burns calories, and reduces your resting heartrate—to name but a few of the myriad benefits (physical, emotional, and mental).
Common Foot and Ankle Running Injuries
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that along with those numerous benefits is also a certain degree of injury risk.
Whereas this risk is probably exaggerated by some—and can be reduced by some basic preventive measures—it is always present. There is no way to completely eliminate the possibility for injury when a human body is in motion.
Given the key role your feet and ankles play, they have a higher risk for injury than do other parts of your body.
It is possible to sustain any of a wide range of foot and ankle injuries while running, but not all are equally as likely to happen. In fact, some are definitely more common than others, including:
- Achilles tendinitis. Any time you see the “-itis” suffix for a medical condition, you know that inflammation is involved in some way. With this injury, the inflamed tissue is your Achilles tendon—which connects the bottom of your calf muscle to the back of your heel.
Your Achilles tendon allows you to move your foot down or up when you either contract or elongate your calf muscle (respectively). If you think about how your feet move while running, you can probably see that they move up and down with every step.
The Achilles is a strong, durable tendon—the strongest in your body, actually—but it is not infallible. Excessive use can be a problem if your body isn’t prepared for it. Beyond overuse, you can also develop Achilles tendinitis if you suddenly increase the intensity of your training (instead of gradually ramping it up).
With regards to symptoms, this condition is one of the more common sources of heel pain. In this case, the pain is felt in the back of the heel and usually is strongest during or immediately following physical activity.
- Ankle sprains. Out of all the injuries a human body can sustain—not just in the lower limbs—this is perhaps the most common. A major reason is because the ankles are valuable, oft-used joints supported with a series of ligaments (which connect the bones forming your ankles).
If a foot twists too far on a horizontal plane (side-to-side), the ligaments can stretch farther than they are intended to go. In doing so, they can become aggravated, and sometimes even torn (in severe cases).
This injury can happen if you’re running on a trail and your foot lands in a divot and rolls inward or outward. At the time of injury, you will typically feel the pain almost immediately. It is important not to try and “push through” the pain! Doing so can cause the injury to become more severe.
An important consideration for a sprained ankle is that trying to resume normal activity levels before complete healing can possibly result in chronic ankle stability—which is bad news. A better approach is to make sure you are completely healed before going back to your usual running program.
- Plantar fasciitis. Whereas ankle sprains are the most common injury, plantar fasciitis is the most common source of heel pain.
Unlike with Achilles tendinitis, the pain in this case is experienced in the bottom of the heel—which makes sense because “plantar” refers to the bottom of the foot—and is most prominent following periods of rest or inactivity. Keeping that last point in mind, you will often feel sharp, intense pain with the first steps of the day (following a night’s sleep).
The inflamed tissue—hopefully you noticed that “-itis” suffix again!—in this injury is your plantar fascia. This is a connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, connecting the back to the front. In doing so, the fascia acts like a bowstring of sorts, and provide support for your foot arches.
- Stress fractures. Running puts a tremendous amount of physical force on your body, including the bones in your skeletal system. Fortunately, our bones are capable of handling a lot of force.
To do so, they go through a perpetual cycle of rejuvenation—replacing fatigued and damaged cells with fresh ones. The problem with stress fractures is that the body isn’t given enough time to actually complete the cycle. This means tired bone cells are asked to do more than they possibly can, and they buckle under the pressure (almost literally).
Stress fractures are thin cracks in the surface of the bone. Since they are fairly tiny, you might not expect them to be particularly painful, but this is not the case. These hairline fractures will generally start at a mild level of pain and then increase over time—and especially if you continue putting tremendous pressure on them from normal activities.
Running Injury Treatment
The starting point for treating foot and ankle running injuries is with first aid and home care.
Out of those injuries, only ankle sprains are typically acute (“happens in a single incident”) in nature, with the rest being chronic conditions that develop over time. Generally speaking, first aid is more important for acute injuries, so let’s begin by discussing what this looks like.
When it comes to first aid, you should keep the acronym PRICE in mind. This stands for:
- Protect. If you sprain an ankle, you should do take measures to keep weight off the injured limb. Your body will be inclined to do this naturally, since weight-bearing will likely be rather painful. This is your body’s way of protecting the injury site.
- Rest. As noted earlier, you should avoid normal activities—and this means not trying to “walk it off” and get back to action right away. Your body needs time to initiate and conduct natural healing processes.
- Ice. A key for recovering from an injury in the fastest possible manner is to control inflammation in the early stages. Applying ice to the injured ankle for an appropriate duration (approximately 15-20 minutes at a time, while taking about 30 minutes between ice applications) will reduce inflammation, and can relieve a certain degree of pain.
- Compression. Wrapping your injured ankle with a fabric bandage is another way to control the initial swelling. When you wrap, remember that it should be tight, but not overly so. If you are losing sensation below the wrap or your foot starts to change color, you should loosen the wrap a bit.
- Elevation. This is another measure you should take to manage inflammation at the injury site. To do this properly, elevate the injured limb above heart-level. (It works best if you are lying down and can prop your leg up with some pillows—at which point you might be glad for the technological advances that allow us to “binge-watch” shows!)
In addition to being an essential part of first aid, PRICE is also quite useful when attempting to recover from an injury with at-home care.
Something you may want to add to your initial wave of treatment is medication. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are able to both relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the damaged tissues.
If “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory” sounds really complicated, it simply refers to medications you are probably already quite familiar with—such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) and naproxen (Aleve).
For injuries that are mild or being treated in the earliest stages, you may find that at-home care is effective. If your injury is more severe in nature—or you aren’t have success treating it on your own—we’re here to help!
At North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute, we provide comprehensive podiatric care for members of our greater Austin community just like you. We’ve been able to help many runners (and non-runners!) overcome foot and ankle difficulty and pain with customized treatment plans, so please feel free to contact us if you want professional diagnosis and care.
You can reach us by calling (512) 593-2949 or connect with us online today!