Don’t miss out on summer fun: Learn how to prevent seasonal foot, ankle injuries

Now that summer’s arrived, more time is being spent outdoors as people enjoy walking, running, hiking and playing tennis, beach sports and more. Along with these physical activities, however, studies also note a rise in the number of foot and ankle injuries sustained during the summer months, which can end up sidelining people from the very sports they love most.

“Our feet are like the tires on a car that support our entire body,” said Samantha Rosenzweig, DPM at Bergen Medical Associates, which has six offices throughout Bergen County. “A ‘flat tire’ will jeopardize our foundation and throw off the rest of the body.”

Dr. Samantha Rosenzweig

Samantha Rosenzweig, DPM

Dr. Rosenzweig discusses some of the most common foot-related sports injuries she treats during the summer — along with tips on how to prevent them:

Describe how summer activities lead to foot and ankle injuries?

Dr. Rosenzweig: A lot of the foot-related conditions we see during the summer are overuse injuries caused by people doing more and different types of activities than they were used to doing all winter and spring. For example, they might start walking more or running or hiking instead of walking without easing into those activities through a progressive exercise program designed to ready them for those specific sports.

What are some of the most common sports-related foot injuries you encounter in the summer?

Dr. Rosenzweig: One of the most common is plantar fasciitis, or heel pain, which often stems from people making poor shoe choices for the activities they’re engaging in. The plantar fascia is the ligament across the bottom of the foot that helps support the arch, so going barefoot or wearing less supportive shoes (i.e.: flip-flops and some sandals) while participating in physical activity, can strain the arch area. I also see a lot of tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon), tendon strains, and ankle strains and sprains caused by overuse. These strains can also arise from people doing diverse types of activities on different surfaces using muscles that haven’t been prepared for that activity. For example, there’s less support on uneven surfaces like the beach or hiking trails, which can cause stress on the sides of the ankles or rolling of the ankles. Finally, during the summer, we also see stress fractures (tiny hairline breaks in the bones of the foot), which can be caused by doing more of something than before, like running or walking.

What are the signs and symptoms of common foot injuries that people should know?

Dr. Rosenzweig: Foot or ankle pain is a key red flag, as is visible swelling, which is a sign of inflammation of that area and/or the possibility that something else is going on. Plantar fasciitis can be experienced in different ways; the most common forms are a shooting, stabbing pain in the heel, a stretching/strain along the whole arch area, or tightness across the bottom of the foot. Tendonitis can result in pain, sometimes a visible swelling of the tendon, and/or a feeling of tightness to the tendon. Tight muscles stretched out and strained can additionally cause pain, and we also see a lot of tennis and pickleball players experiencing ankle issues or heel discomfort. And stress fractures are a particular risk for anyone with osteoporosis or osteopenia, especially middle-aged to older females.

What are some effective treatments for common summer sports-related foot injuries?

Dr. Rosenzweig: With any injury, we recommend taking a few days off from the activity; it’s better to take a couple of days off to rest than be off your feet for the rest of the summer. For plantar fasciitis, we suggest that patients engage in the basics — daily stretching, icing or rolling their feet with a frozen water bottle. Also, myofascial release/massage techniques (which involve rolling the foot with a ball or foot rollers to massage out the muscles) and wearing shoes in the house for support will help. I’ll also evaluate their feet and shoes in case they could benefit from an insert or orthotic. If these treatments don’t alleviate their plantar fasciitis, we can administer cortisone treatments to support the healing process. Regardless, patients should still maintain an appropriate exercise regimen to prevent its recurrence. For tendonitis, we may recommend specific stretches, refer the patient to a physical therapist or fit them for a lace-up ankle brace for added support. For chronic inflammation of the tendons or ligaments, a new minimally invasive debridement procedure called Tenex uses ultrasonic energy to remove damaged or diseased tissue from the tendon without harming healthy tissue.

Can you share any precautions people should take to prevent foot injuries during the summer?

Dr. Rosenzweig: To avoid overuse, we recommend undertaking a gradual exercise program if you haven’t been active or were doing different types of activities to that point. For instance, there are “couch-to-5K” programs designed to help the body safely prepare for and build up to a 5K over several months. We also suggest a varied exercise regimen. For example, rather than running 5 miles every day, incorporate rest days and other activities such as biking, elliptical, and swimming to take pressure off of the joints. Daily stretching is key; most people don’t take the few minutes every day to prepare, stretch and loosen up their muscles. But this short investment of time can prevent a longer, injury-driven “time out” later. Proper shoe gear — not just supportive shoes, but footwear that’s appropriate for the specific activity you’re engaging in — is also critical. Rather than hiking in flip-flops, select a hiking shoe with good traction for uneven surfaces and possibly a higher top for greater ankle support, and get properly fitted for shoes by a knowledgeable professional. Finally, avoid going barefoot; there are so many splinters, rocks, glass shards and other foreign bodies on the ground that can end up sidelining you from sports. Choose something with a rubber and/or more structured, supportive sole and a design that will effectively stay on the foot (e.g., not an open back) to prevent a trip hazard.

What final messages can you share about staying on your feet injury-free this summer?

Dr. Rosenzweig: During the warm-weather months, many people are concerned about applying suntan lotion and not getting burned. But feet are important too! Be sure to get good supportive shoes for the activities you’ll be participating in, be aware of your environment, and be kind to your feet. Don’t take them for granted! Here at BMA, our experienced Sports Medicine doctors can address every type of sports-related injury as well as preventative care. We take pride in keeping our patients healthy and active all season long.

For More Information

With offices in Emerson, Paramus (two), Ridgewood, Northvale and Montvale, Bergen Medical Associates offers primary care and 12 areas of specialized care. Patients enjoy the “one-stop shopping” approach where so many medical services are provided under one umbrella. The multi-specialty group fosters an environment of collaboration among the physicians, which results in a seamless continuum of care for patients. For more information, contact us today or call 201-967-8221.

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