6 Simple Ways to Avoid Preventable Foot and Ankle Injuries

May 18, 2021

All athletic activity comes with a risk of accidental injury to the feet or ankles, whether you’re a pro, weekend warrior, or just enjoy an occasional run. This could take the form of chronic aches (like heel pain or shin splints), or a sudden trauma (like a sprained ankle).

That’s not to discourage you from activity! We want you to get outside and have fun—the benefits significantly outweigh the risks. That’s especially true if you’re taking a few smart precautions to reduce your risk of injury to the absolute minimum.

If you’re planning to start up a new sport or exercise routine, or you just have had exercise-related injury troubles in the past and would not care to repeat them, you’ll want to check out the following tips. They could end up sparing you a lot of pain and grief!

Young fitness man holding his sports leg injury. muscle painful during training. Asian runner having feet sole ache and problem after running and exercise outside morning. sport and healthy concepts

Make Sure You Have the Right Footwear

Whether you’re a runner, basketball player, dancer, or any other kind of athlete, it starts with making sure you have a great pair of shoes.

What makes a pair of shoes “great,” though? It’s not necessarily about cost, or even just the quality of the design or construction. It’s also about whether or not the shoes fit your feet. 

If they’re too big, too small, not wide enough, etc. it’s not going to matter how “good” your shoes are. You’re going to have problems. For runners in particular, there are even more factors to consider—such as whether you need motion control shoes for severe overpronation.

If you shop at a specialty athletic shoe store, an associate may be able to help you pick out something that will work for your needs.

If sports-related foot pain is a consistent problem for you, you should also consider scheduling an appointment with us so we can take a closer look at your biomechanics and address any underlying causes. We can help you find shoes for your needs, and determine whether you might benefit from custom orthotics.

Consider Getting a Pair of Orthotics

Orthotics can provide many benefits to athletes of all skill levels.

Unfortunately, finding the perfect pair of shoes may not be enough on its own to fully meet your arch support and cushioning needs. This is particularly true if you have any kind of structural or biomechanical abnormality that affects your walking and running—for example, flat feet, high arches, or severe overpronation.

Wearing the correct pair of orthotics can not only reduce wear and tear on your feet, but can also put your entire lower body to a more biomechanically efficient alignment and promote better form. As a result, you may find that you’re able to reduce pain and fatigue throughout the body, reduce your injury risk, and even make performance gains in your chosen sport.

It’s important to note, however, that just like shoes, your orthotics need to be the right fit for your specific needs. Don’t go out to the pharmacy and buy a random set of arch supports off the shelf. Contact us first! We can determine whether or not you could benefit from either premade or custom orthotics—and if so, help ensure you get the right ones.

Start Slowly with New Activities and Workouts

Many athletes—even experienced ones—make the mistake of doing too much, too soon.

The reality is that it takes your body time to adjust to new activities and develop the strength and coordination to perform them safely at a high level. This is true if you’re significantly increasing the intensity of your overall activities—like going from no physical activity to jumping full speed into running season. But it can also be true if you’re switching up the type of exercise you’ll be performing and challenging your body in different ways than it’s accustomed to.

Whenever beginning a new sport or exercise program, start slow. Find an easy pace that gives you a decent workout but doesn’t leave you gasping. Then, ratchet up from there—no more than 15 to 20 percent per week, as measured by distance, duration, weight, or other relevant metrics based on the activity.

By increasing the intensity gradually, and not overstressing your feet and ankles, you’re able to push your limits and performance level higher while keeping your injury risk relatively low.

Cross Train

It’s important to work rest days into any athletic routine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take a break from all activity on your off days from your primary sport. Cross-training in different kinds of activities and exercises not only gives your brain a nice change of pace, but also can help you rest your feet and ankles while working on other areas of your body. (It also makes you a better athlete.)

If your primary activity is high-impact, like running, you might consider only running 3-4 times per week (or less, depending on how well established your routine is) and mix some low-impact activities into your workout plan on other days, like swimming or cycling. 

It’s also important to focus on strength training in your legs, feet, and ankles. Stronger muscles in your lower extremities will help you keep your footing better and reduce the risk of falls, sprains, and other injuries.

Warm Up Before Exercise

Whether you’re getting ready for a run, a game, or any other workout, don’t neglect to take a few minutes upfront for a warmup. Breaking into a sprint or other intense exercise while your muscles and joints are still tight and cold is a recipe for disaster. A good warmup, by contrast, boosts blood flow and relaxes muscles and joints under safe conditions so they’re ready for more intense activity.

Good warmup exercises include some light cardio, such as slow jogging, as well as more dynamic stretches like jumping jacks, arm circles, and lunges. You can save your static stretches (where you hold a position for 20-30 seconds) for your cool-down after exercise—they’ll be more effective then.

Exercise Caution with Rough Conditions

The risks to your feet and ankles are different when running on concrete versus asphalt versus dirt, or when running on hills versus flat ground. Similarly, playing baseball or soccer on a muddy, waterlogged field is going to be a much higher risk than on dry grass.

If you’re a runner who frequently struggles with foot or leg pain, consider whether you should choose routes that feature softer, flatter terrain.

If the conditions are unsafe, don’t risk it—or at the very least, shorten your stride and adjust your pace accordingly. Better to take a rest day or focus on indoor exercises than be sidelined indefinitely due to a nasty sprain.

Smiling runners on mountain trail

Listen to Your Body

Whoever said “no pain, no gain” was, unfortunately, very mistaken. That ethos has led to countless preventable injuries.

If your body is telling you that it hurts, listen and stop what you’re doing immediately. It’s a warning sign that something is very wrong—and could quickly get worse if you continue to aggravate it.

Instead, start RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, elevation) at home. If the pain is severe, or just doesn’t go away after a few days of RICE, give us a call. We specialize in foot and ankle sports medicine and trauma care, and we offer a wide variety of advanced treatment options that can help you soothe pain fast and even accelerate the natural healing process—including laser therapy, shockwave therapy (EPAT), and amniotic tissue injections.

We understand you’re itching to get back to your favorite activities, so our treatments are tailored to minimizing downtime and allowing you to remain as active as possible throughout the recovery and rehab process—without exposing you to increased risk of re-injury. 

Ready to get the relief you need? Contact Rainier Foot & Ankle Associates in Enumclaw, WA today at (360) 761-1285, or by connecting with us online.