You probably don’t consider this often, but your feet and ankles are intricately structured and formed by many different parts. In fact, those valuable appendages contain more than one-quarter of all the bones in your body (to go along with more than 100 different muscles and connective tissues).
Given all the bones contained in each foot and ankle, there are also numerous joints. This makes sense because a joint is formed where any two bones meet.
These anatomical components are necessary for structure and functionality, but they also create the opportunity for various causes of bone and joint pain.
The majority of bone conditions in the lower limbs are fractures (of various kinds). For joints, the most likely issue is an arthritic condition.
Let’s explore these problems more closely so you can recognize symptoms and understand what is entailed with treatment.
Types of Bone Fractures
Bones are reasonably strong and do a rather remarkable job of withstanding the physical forces we place upon them, but they are not infallible.
Lower limb fractures happen as the result of physical forces, either from a single traumatic event (an acute injury) or in response to an accumulation of forces over time (a chronic injury). There are several different types of bone fractures, including:
- Comminuted fracture. Sometimes bones break into two pieces, but a comminuted fracture is a matter of bone shattering into three or more pieces.
- Open, compound fracture. This is a dangerous fracture, as the skin has been pierced by a broken bone and this exposes internal tissues to the possibility of contamination and infection. If you sustain this type of broken bone, seek immediate medical care.
- Stable fracture. Otherwise known as a simple fracture, this can be considered an ideal break, one wherein the broken ends line up correctly and will heal in a normal fashion. It is important, though, to immobilize the affected area so a shift does not occur to either end.
- Stress fracture. In this type of fracture, the affected bone develops a hairline, surface-level crack over time and in response to repetitive physical forces. When bone tissue is not given enough time to replenish damaged tissue between bouts of high-impact physical activities (running, jumping), there is a high risk of stress fractures.
Bone Fracture Treatment
The body has an impressive ability to repair broken bone tissue. This repair takes place in three stages:
- Inflammation – This stage starts as soon as the fracture has been sustained and is necessary for providing a supply of blood to the injured area. The initial framework for ultimate healing emerges as the blood begins to clot.
- Bone production – The second stage is where the clotted blood is replaced by fibrous tissues and cartilage, which are, in turn, replaced over time by solid bone tissue.
- Bone remodeling – In this final stage, the bone tissue really develops. It becomes dense and compact, and normal circulation is restored.
Various factors dictate exactly how long the entire healing process will take, and when you can return to running or other physical activities. Generally, though, it takes approximately 6 to 8 weeks for a broken bone to heal to a significant degree. Children’s bones will often heal quicker than adult bones do.
Treatment for a broken bone depends, naturally, on the kind of fracture sustained and the severity of the injury. In the case of a simple, stable fracture, our goal is to immobilize the area and allow the broken bone to heal in a normal manner. Options for keeping the affected bone(s) in place include buddy-taping, bracing, and casting. A second goal we have for treatment is to relieve any painful symptoms. Medication and icing are two common components of fracture care.
In some cases, surgery is necessary. This typically entails using plates and screws to hold broken pieces in place while the body mends the damaged bone. Depending on the procedure, we may need to reopen the incision later to remove the plates or screws.
Stress Fracture Prevention
It is difficult to list specific measures to prevent an acute injury fracture, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of sustaining a stress fracture. These include:
- Cross-train. Running is a great form of exercise, but add in some low-impact activities to prevent injury and contribute to greater overall physical wellness.
- Ease into activity. We know that it can be tempted to jump into a new physical activity in hopes of seeing quick results, but keep in mind that physical changes (weight loss, muscle toning) take time. Start any workout program at a low levels and then gradually build them up over time.
- Eat well. A diet rich in calcium, vitamins D and K2, and magnesium will give your bones the nutrients they need to stay strong. This will allow them to better absorb forces and replenish damaged tissue.
- Strengthen your muscles. Resistance activities will build up your muscles and make them better able to absorb some of the force load from the bones in your lower limbs.
- Wear the right shoes. This cannot be emphasized enough, especially because proper footwear is necessary for avoiding many common foot and ankle issues. Choose models that fit your feet well and are appropriate for the activity you perform.
Types of Arthritis
In a general sense, arthritis can be defined as “joint inflammation.” Most people associate arthritis with a single condition, but there are many different arthritic conditions that can develop.
When we consider the feet and ankles, the most common types are:
- Osteoarthritis. When people hear the word “arthritis,” this is the condition they usually think about. Osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear” version that takes place over time. Inflammation develops in response to protective joint linings breaking down. This results in stiff, painful joints.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Whereas osteoarthritis develops from natural wear and tear, RA is an immune system disorder. In this condition, the body’s immune system begins attacking the protective joint linings. At this time, medical experts are unsure as to why RA happens.
- Gout. This form of arthritis is caused by a product—uric acid—the body releases during the process of breaking down food. Uric acid production is completely natural, but the problem arises when either excessive quantities are produced or the uric acid is not properly expelled from the body during urination. In these cases, the acid floats freely in the blood stream before ultimately settling into joints (especially the one at the base of the big toe) and building up into urate crystals.
- Post-traumatic arthritis. When bones fracture, especially in or near joints, an early onset of arthritis can develop. This most frequently happens as the result of auto accidents, sports injuries, and other sources of physical trauma.
Arthritis Treatment and Prevention
The specific form of arthritis and its severity will be used to determine what is included in an effective treatment plan. Physical therapy (exercise), medication, hot and cold therapy, and assistive devices (walkers, canes, etc.) all can play a role in conservative care.
Arthritic conditions can make movement difficult and/or painful, so it might seem as though physical activity should be avoided. This is not the case, however.
Exercise, when done correctly, is a remarkably effective way to relieve arthritis symptoms.
Some of the best exercises include walking, swimming, yoga, and even weight lifting. This certainly applies to anyone who is starting an exercise regimen, but it is essential to begin at an easy level, slowly building up levels of duration and intensity over time. Our team can help you create a workout program that reduces arthritis symptoms.
The benefits of exercise on arthritis include improved muscular strength and range of motion. Exercising regularly can also help affected joints by promoting a healthy bodyweight and, thus, applying less pressure on them.
When it comes to gout, dietary choices play an essential role in both treatment and prevention. It is important to know that foods which cause heightened uric acid levels should at least be limited, if not avoided altogether. These food products include seafood, meat, sweets, highly-processed carbohydrates, and alcoholic beverages (especially beer).
We know that sounds like a lot of food options, but centering a diet on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy can reduce the frequency of gout attacks and keep the condition at bay.
Our hope is to effectively care for arthritic conditions with nonsurgical treatment, but there are instances where surgery is necessary. Most often, this entails either joint replacement or joint fusion to address the condition and provide relief.
Get the Help You Need Now!
If a fractured foot, toe, or ankle bone is causing pain and difficulty, or you are living with arthritis pain in your lower limbs, we can help.
There’s no need to put up with the pain, so contact North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute today! Call us at (512) 593-2949 or use our online form to connect with us right now.