May Articles 2014

Stretching Your Feet

Debilitating foot pain is a problem for many people. But just as stretching the torso can help alleviate back pain, stretching the feet can also mend existing problems and prevent future ones.

The feet carry the entire weight of the human body all day and can get easily strained from overexertion. Persistent sharp pain and cramping in the feet are common problems. Foot pain and problems can be due to any number of causes, and in many cases pain may be eased without medication or doctor visits; however, it is always a good idea to rule out any serious medical issues first with a physician.

Stretching may help relax the feet and alleviate pain at any time, but it is especially important before    heavy aerobic exercise to avoid painful cramps or straining muscles in the feet. Stretches should be performed slowly and deliberately without forceful pulling. The stretch should be held for several seconds, and then relaxed.

A great way to stretch out and loosen up the foot muscles while sitting is to cross one leg over the other and pull the toes carefully back without overextending. Start by resting the left ankle on the right knee. With the left hand, gently flex the left foot by pulling back on the toes. Do not pull too hard, just hard enough to feel the stretch in the arch of the foot. Then point the toes of the left foot as far as you can. Rotate the motion of pointing with pulling back on the toes. This should relax and stretch the muscles on the bottom and the top of the foot. Doing this stretch ten to twenty times should bring relief. Repeat the whole process for the other foot by resting the right ankle on the left knee.

A stretch that focuses on the often injured Achilles tendon involves standing, facing a wall, with your arms out and hands flat against the wall. Step back with one foot, keeping it flat against the floor. Move the other leg forward and lean toward the wall. You should feel a stretch through the back of your leg and your Achilles tendon, but do not push yourself too much. Stop when you feel the stretching sensation and hold for 30 seconds. Ten repetitions may be done for each foot.

Stretching the feet is important for athletes or those performing aerobic exercise, but it can also help anyone with foot pain caused by poor footwear, plantar fasciitis, or long hours standing and walking. Individuals who tend to their feet by regular stretching every day should be able to minimize foot pain and prevent new problems from arising.



Nerve Disorders of the Foot and Ankle

Similar to well-known nerve disorders in the hands, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve disorders that affect the foot and ankle occur in patients for reasons ranging from stress to genetics. Nerve disorders of the foot should be addressed right away because they may be immobilizing in serious cases. Two of the most common nerve disorders of the foot and ankle are Interdigital Neuroma and Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.

Interdigital Neuroma is caused by localized inflammation of one of the nerves that controls toe sensitivity in the frontal area of the foot. This inflammation is generally only found in the second or third interspace, and any other symptoms similar to Neuroma on other digits should be checked against other disorders. Symptoms include chronic burning or tingling sensations between the affected toes which can, at times, migrate to the toes themselves. This pain is often increased by walking, running, or by wearing shoes that compress the toes, such as high heels. A doctor should be consulted if this pain is chronic and if the symptoms get worse.

Typical examinations to determine the presence of Neuroma include radiographs, MRIs, and even bone scans of the affected area. Bone scans are only required if degeneration of bone is suspected, however. Surgery is often not required to alleviate the symptoms of Neuroma, and in many cases functional orthotics can be used to alleviate the stress of constant weight on the affected toes. Surgery is recommended for those patients that suffer from symptoms for 6 months or more, so reporting symptoms early can increase the rate of non-surgical recovery.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, a condition that is less common than Interdigital Neuroma, is similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in that it is caused by a compression of the nerve caused by any number of factors (mostly associated with excess pronation). Typically seen in those that have either flatfeet or valgus heel positions, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome has patients complaining of moderate to severe ankle pain that starts along the bottom of the foot and often proceeds to the calf. Some more extreme cases occur with partial numbness and even atrophy of the foot and surrounding muscles.

If there is a good chance that someone has Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, an EMG test is often used to diagnose the condition.  If the diagnosis is positive, an MRI can be used to identify the compression of the nerve. Treatment with NSAIDS, functional orthotics, and rest off of the feet is often prescribed, but again, long standing symptoms require surgery, as do exacerbated symptoms caused by lesions present between nerves.


Arthritic Foot Care

In our lifetimes we walk 75,000 miles, putting a great deal of stress on the 26 bones and 30 joints in our feet. As we age, our feet lose flexibility and elasticity. Our shock absorbers weaken, and if you add arthritis to that combination, joints become inflamed and distorted. Arthritic foot care becomes imperative at this point.

Start taking better care of your feet by buying better fitting shoes. Hammertoes, neuroma, and bunions form when our shoes fit poorly. Buy shoes with a lower heel and with more room in the shoe. Rheumatoid arthritis will cause you to lose your arch. Buying shoes with arch support will help, as will buying shoes that contour to your foot.

Leave a fingers width between your foot and the shoe. If your finger cannot fit inside your shoe when it is on your foot, it is too tight. Buy rubber soled shoes. The cushioning of the rubber absorbs shock and the flexibility of the rubber helps the ball of the foot, where you push off from as you walk. Look for square or rounded toed shoes giving your toes lots of room to move.

Exercise will also help. Stretching the Achilles tendon, the cord at the back of the heel, will prevent further pain and injury. This will also increase your foots mobility. Lack of mobility will cause significant stress and pain. Massages will also alleviate some pain. Knead the ball of your foot and your toes from top to bottom.

To stretch your Achilles tendon, lean against a wall, with palms flat on the wall. Place one foot forward and one foot back with the heel flat on the floor, then lean forward. Feel the pull in the Achilles tendon and calf. Hold for five seconds and repeat three times. The big toe stretch is another exercise that may alleviate stiffness. Place one thick rubber band around your big toes. Pull the toes toward the other toes on the foot. Hold for five seconds and repeat ten times. Another exercise to try is the toe pull. Place a thick rubber band around the toes of each foot. Spread your toes for five seconds and repeat ten times.

Pain can be alleviated with non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drugs, heat, and ultrasounds. Topical medications with Capsaicin may also help. Thus far, there is no remedy for pain that is one hundred percent effective. Buying shoes that give your feet plenty room with low rubber heels and soles will help. If needed, use heat and anti-inflammatory drugs, and exercise your tendons and toes. Lastly, arthritic foot care should incorporate massages to help your feet with circulation and to relieve the stress locked up in your feet.



Getting Back into Sports after Foot and Ankle Injuries

One of the most common injuries that athletes suffer from is a sprained ankle, a very painful and frustrating problem. A sprained ankle usually causes one to avoid participating in sports, and once someone has sprained their ankle, they are very likely to sprain it again.

To get back into sports after a sprained ankle, one should follow the RICE method, which is consistently recommended by physical therapists and sports medicine doctors. The RICE method involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If one follows the RICE method soon after experiencing a sprained ankle, he or she will likely get back to the playing fields in no time. In addition to using the RICE method, an athlete should wear an ankle brace after experiencing a sprained ankle to help alleviate the pain and keep the ankle safe until it heels. A brace will also help to stabilize the ankle, and prevent serious injuries in the future. Many times, people suffer from sprained ankles due to weak ligaments near the ankle; because an ankle brace keeps the ligaments in the foot from moving too much, it will help someone avoid this injury.

Fractures in the foot and ankle are another common type of injury athletes suffer. Stress fractures typically occur in the bones of the forefoot. An athlete will usually experience stress fractures if he or she partakes in a sudden increase in athletic training. A stress fracture can be either stable or displaced. A stable stress fracture involves no shift in bone alignment, while a displaced stress fracture involves bone ends that no longer line up.

After an athlete has a stress fracture in the foot, he or she will immediately need to see a doctor. Rest is usually the key to treat this problem. One will have to refrain from any strenuous activities or the sports that caused the injury. A doctor or specialist may be able to pinpoint the specific part of an athlete's training that caused the stress fracture. If this is possible, then an athlete will not have to worry about refraining from his or her sport in the future; he or she will simply have to stop training in such a way that an ankle or foot injury results.

The key for any athlete is to care about the treatment process for an ankle or foot injury. Athletes need to rest and take time before hitting the fields. The more an athlete invests in the treatment and recovery process, the more likely he or she will be able to return back to normal athletic performance.


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