March Madness and Sports Injury Sadness
Some of the college basketball conference tournaments—which will be used in seeding the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Division I Basketball Tournaments, and in some cases even determining which teams will make it to the Big Dance—are starting in just a couple of days. For example, the Big Ten tournament tips off on 2/28 at Madison Square Garden this year.
Once the respective conference tournaments have concluded on 3/11, the NCAA selection committee will finalize their decisions as to which teams are in and what their seedings will be for the 2018 tournament. Following Selection Sunday, the “madness” starts when teams in the “First Four” take to the court 3/13-14.
After that point, millions upon millions of fans will tune in to root for their favorite teams, watch memorable moments and upsets, and, of course, keep track of their office pool brackets!
For many sports fans, this is considered to be one of the best times of the year. Now, with so many games being played—a total of 67 games—there are bound to be some injuries on the court. Feet and ankles are particularly at risk for injury during a basketball game (or practice). Actually, the sport doesn’t matter much – there are many foot and ankle sports injuries in general!
To lower their risk, athletes playing in March Madness take certain precautions (and so should you if you participate in physical activities!). This is a smart practice. The fact of the matter, though, is that we can only lower our injury risk – not eliminate it completely.
That means foot and ankle injuries happen. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a five-star recruit at a major college, the best players in the NBA, or you and a couple friends shooting hoops at a local Y – if a human body is in motion, there’s a chance for injury.
We will take a look at preventative measures to make your risk for injury as minimal as possible—and we have some great tips to do this! —but let’s start with a look at some common foot and ankle sports injuries first.
Foot and Ankle Injuries You Should Know
Your feet and ankles are intricately structured and endure tremendous force loads—especially during athletic events—which means there are many potential injuries. Now, there are many ways to injure the numerous bones, muscles and connective tissues, but they are not equally as common. The ones that happen most frequently include:
- Ankle sprains. We will be going into a little greater detail with this one in just a bit, but it is worth noting here that ankle sprains should not be dismissed as “not a big deal” while you head back out to the court, field, or your running program! You simply must make sure you are fully healed before returning to normal activities.
- Achilles tendinitis. Your Achilles tendons are essential for mobility, and this means there’s a potential risk for an Achilles injury any time you run or jump with great force. The demographics most at risk for this kind of sports injury are the “weekend warrior” set and runners who make sudden increases to the duration or intensity of their training. If you want to lower your risk, make sure you do a proper warmup—including dynamic stretches—prior to physical activity and remember to gradually ramp up activity levels.
- Broken bones. There are countless ways you could potentially sustain a broken foot or ankle bone during athletic activity. Treatment for a broken bone is centered on stabilizing the bone (so it will mend correctly) and managing the pain. In the case of an open (compound) fracture, a broken section of bone will pierce all the way through the skin. If you see this, you need to take measures to prevent an infection and then seek immediate emergency medical care!
- Stress fractures. Whereas a standard bone fracture typically stems from a single traumatic event, stress fractures are overuse injuries caused by an accumulation of repetitive stress over time. To reduce your risk of a stress fracture, avoid overtraining, cross-train with low-impact activities, and build muscle strength in your lower body.
- Heel pain. There are several possible culprits for heel pain during or after sports and other physical activities. Plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis are two major ones for adults. Adolescents may experience a condition known as Sever’s disease, which is a kind of growing pain that goes away as the Achilles tendon reaches full maturity.
Ankle Sprains, Fractures, and Instability
Ankles sprains are considered to be the most common sports injuries, but they can also happen to nonathletes as well. After all, it’s easy to misjudge the location of a curb or step, or slip on a wet floor, and then twist your ankle.
That said, the injury you sustain isn’t always just a sprain.
There are times when it can be difficult—yet absolutely essential—to distinguish between two different things possessing certain similarities. Such is the case with ankle sprains and ankle fractures.
The two conditions are frequently misidentified as being the other one. Why? Because they have common symptoms and can result from similar injuries. Both sprains and fractures can happen when an ankle is placed under excessive stress at an unnatural angle.
Something that happens frequently is an individual lands awkwardly on the outside edge of his or her foot when misjudging the distance or height of a step or curb. This can either overstretch ligaments or cause a break in the bottom end of the fibula. Each often leads to pain and swelling in the ankle, but they are different injuries.
(These are not mutually exclusive injuries and it’s definitely possible to both sprain and break an ankle at the same time.)
When ankle ligaments are excessively stretched, the condition you are experiencing is a sprained ankle. The joints in the ankle are rather complex and made of numerous connective tissue that can be sprained during abnormal motion (rolling, twisting). If you can place some weight on the affected foot, this is probably the injury you have sustained.
When you have a broken ankle, it means that one of the bones—often the bottom end of the fibula—has become fractured. Sometimes these breaks happen as the result of a single, traumatic event (like an accident). This injury is usually more painful than a sprain and you will experience difficulty putting any weight on the affected ankle (especially when walking).
Ankle instability is a condition related to ankle sprains. In this chronic condition, you may experience symptoms like pain, persistent swelling, tenderness, and an unstable, wobbly ankle. Further, there is an increased risk and occurrence of ankle sprains, along with difficulty in properly balancing and supporting bodyweight.
All of this stems from the fact that the ligaments become weakened when they are sprained and need time to heal. If you go back to physical activities too soon, the ligaments can sustain further damage. This can lead to a more permanent weakness in these essential connective tissues.
The risk for long-term ankle instability is increased if you try and “walk it off” so you can get back in the game. Instead, you need to see the bigger picture and consider the implications of doing that.
Reducing your risk for ankle instability also decreases the likelihood that you will need to undergo ankle surgery. There are ways of possibly treating the condition with conservative care, but some cases need surgical procedures to tighten or shorten ankle ligaments, or transfer a tendon from the lower leg and use it as an outer ligament for the ankle.
How We Treat Foot and Ankle Sports Injuries
Our practice has a wide range of treatment options to help you find the relief you need. Some are advanced, but there are also many that have stood the test of time. These can be a great starting point before exploring state-of-the-art option and include the following:
- Medication. Mild symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, but prescription painkillers are sometimes used for more-severe symptoms. For some patients and ailments, corticosteroid injections can be quite effective.
- Orthotic therapy. A pair of custom orthotics will help correct biomechanical issues so your feet go through a proper rolling motion with every step you take.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapy is a conservative option we may incorporate into a patient’s treatment plan. This tends to be particularly beneficial for sports injuries, as stretches and strengthening exercises can help feet and ankle resume normal functionality.
As a note, although physical therapy is a nonsurgical form of treatment used to address certain ailments, we also use it to help patients recover from surgery. In addition to improving flexibility, strength, and restoring range of motion, exercise promotes healthy circulation. Moving in an appropriate, approved manner can help an injured body part receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs to recover.
- Surgery. Fortunately, most sports injuries—and other foot and ankle conditions—can be resolved with conservative care. Sometimes, however, surgery is the best option. When this is the case, we will carefully review your options with you and give our professional recommendation.
Reduce Your Injury Risk!
We take pride in providing first-class podiatric care for our patients. Even better, though, is knowing you are able to stay safe and avoid an injury from happening in the first place. Fortunately, there are measures you can take reduce your injury risk. These include things like:
- Ease into new physical activities. If you find yourself inspired by the athletes participating in the NCAA tournaments and want to start playing ball—or any sport, actually—it’s important to be smart about it. One of the easiest ways to get hurt is trying to do too much, too soon. Instead, start new activities or running programs at an easy level and then slowly build up the intensity and duration over time.
- Have the right footwear. Too often, we have to treat a patient for a sprained ankle that could have been avoided if he or she had been playing ball with basketball shoes and not running ones. Running shoes are great if you are running, but do not offer the proper ankle support that a basketball player—even a recreational one—needs!
- Stretch regularly. When weekend warriors hit the courts after a week of sedentary activities, they have an increased likelihood of suffering a soft tissue injury (Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, etc.) that can linger. The risk of this happening can be greatly diminished by a regular stretching regimen. Want help putting one together? Our foot specialists can help!
- Strengthen your leg muscles. In addition to being limber, you also want the muscles in your lower body to be strong. This helps to support the bones absorb the physical forces that come from running and jumping, which will lower your risk of developing a painful stress fracture.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying properly hydrated while playing basketball, or any sport, is essential for regulating body temperature and preventing muscle cramps, but it also helps your lower limbs to absorb essential nutrients. Body tissues rely on those nutrients to stay strong, healthy, and reduce your risk of injury.
Now, these injury prevention tips will help improve your odds of staying in the whole game, but there really isn’t any way to completely eliminate injury risk from any physical activity.
Professional Foot and Ankle Sports Injury Treatment!
We hope you are able to stay safe in the first place. We’ve been around for a while, though, and know that’s not always possible. So come see us if you need treatment!
Contact us by calling whichever office is most convenient for you:
- Our Rego Park office at (718) 896-4433
- Our Plainview office at (516) 822-9595
- Our Flushing office at (718) 969-2266