Foot & Ankle
Achilles Tendon Problems
The band of tissue that connects muscle to bone on the back of the lower leg is known as the “Achilles tendon.” Two common problems related to this section of the leg are “Achilles Tendonitis” (when this tendon becomes inflamed) and “Achilles Tendonosis” (further degeneration if the Achilles tendonitis is not treated). In short, “Achilles Tendonitis” can turn into “Achilles Tendonosis.” Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and extreme tenderness within the area of the tendon. Achilles tendon problems can be diagnosed with physical examination and MRI. Depending on the severity of the particular problem, treatment options can include applying a cast, walking boot or night splints, placing ice on the Achilles tendon, and physical therapy. More severe cases of this condition may require surgery.
If the lateral (or outside) of the ankle has been frequently injured, it may an indication of ankle instability. This condition is often a result of an ankle having suffered repeated sprains. Symptoms include turning of the ankle, swelling, discomfort, and an overall feeling of wobbling when putting pressure on the ankle. Ankle instability can be diagnosed through X-rays or other forms of imaging. Depending on the severity of the instability, treatment options can include physical therapy, applying an ankle bracelet, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). More severe cases of this condition may require surgery.
If a person is simply walking, running, or should happen to move their foot awkwardly and it twists or turns, he or she may wind up with a sprain. Symptoms of a sprained ankle include feeling pain, swelling, and bruising. Depending on the severity, this condition may be diagnosed through physical exams, X-rays, or MRI scans. Where treatment is concerned, people who are experiencing a minor sprained ankle should rest, apply ice, place an elastic band around the affected area, and elevate it. (So: rest, ice, compression, elevation – words which have been adopted by the medical profession into a simple acronym to remember: RICE.) More severe cases of this condition may require having a cast or boot placed to keep the ankle still and in place.
When the skin between the toes feels itchy or has a stinging, burning sensation, it may be a sign that “athlete’s foot” is developing. Athlete’s foot is often the result of wearing extremely tight-fitting shoes, as the skin of the foot becomes sweaty and wet. One extended concern worth noting about athlete’s foot is that it is contagious, and may spread from surfaces, clothes or other fabrics that have become contaminated. This spreading, in turn, can go to the hands, nails, and groin area. Symptoms other than itching or burning sensations may include developing blisters or scale-like texture on the foot. Treatment options may include over-the-counter antifungal ointments or creams, or doctor-prescribed medications for the foot for more severe cases.
Bunions, Corns and Calluses
A “bunion” is an abnormal growth that develops on the joint at the base of the big toe. A “corn” is a thick area of inflamed skin that grows on either the top or sides of the foot and has a hard center. A “callus” is larger than a corn and develops on the sole and other weight-bearing parts of the foot. Generally, these conditions are accompanied by symptoms of extreme tenderness and skin becoming dry and flaking. Bunions, corns and calluses are diagnosed on physical exam. Treatment options may include doctor-prescribed medication to help remove the growths, or having excess skin either medically trimmed or even surgery if the case is more severe. Additionally, avoid wearing constricting footwear to reduce the chance of developing or avoiding a reoccurrence, of bunions, corns and calluses.
Diabetic Feet and Ulcer Care
According to the Centers for Disease Control, just over one in 10 people throughout the U.S. have diabetes. The feet are among the most common areas of the body to be affected by diabetes. One particularly serious condition that can develop from having diabetes is “peripheral vascular disease,” which affects the flow of blood to the arms and legs. Infections that develop often can’t heal as a result of the poor blood flow and may lead to ulcers or gangrene, which is when tissue dies on account of poor blood flow. A “foot ulcer” can either be a deep sore or break in the skin that can be caused by scrapes or ill-fitting shoes. Foot ulcers should be treated immediately upon being noticed or diagnosed. Treatment options include a combination of offloading (the removal of excess weight) the wound and dressing the foot on a daily basis with saline. More severe cases of this condition may require surgery.
For some people, the arches on the inside of their feet do not form a curve but are flat. The complete soles of their feet touch the ground when they stand. This condition is known as “flat feet.” Having flat feet is the result of the arches not forming properly in childhood, an injury, or it may develop as a person ages. Overall, this condition is only problematic if the feet become painful. In more serious cases, flat feet can adversely change the alignment of the legs, which in turn can lead to issues with the knees and ankles. Imaging tests (X-rays, MRIs and ultrasounds) can determine the seriousness of a diagnosis of flat feet. This condition cannot be cured, and treatment is only necessary if feet become painful. Helpful treatment options include placing arch supports in shoes or changing to supportive shoes, and certain types of stretching exercises.
Foot and Ankle Pain
Since the feet receive pressure from standing, walking, jogging or running, it is not uncommon that they will experience some kind of pain or irritation. While a lot of instances of foot and ankle pain tend to be short term, it is recommended to seek the help and advice from a podiatrist for a complete examination. If a particular case is not too serious, practicing RICE (an acronym for Restrict, Ice, Compression, Elevate) can serve as treatment. Additionally, foot massage can help stimulate blood flow and reduce swelling. Should the foot and ankle pain be more serious, however, the podiatrist will advise on the most effective methods of treatment.
A bending type of deformity that can occur in the middle joint of the second, third, a fourth, and fifth toe is known as a “hammertoe.” Although this deformity can begin relatively mildly and may not seem to be of too much concern, it can get worse over time if not treated properly and immediately. Hammertoes are often the result of an imbalance in the muscle or tendon of the toe. Aside from discomfort, other symptoms can include the development of corns and calluses and redness. Depending on the severity of the hammertoes, treatment options can include simply changes to different footwear that won’t aggravate the condition, medications, or placing a pad on the infected toes. More severe cases of this condition may require surgery.
If calcium deposits build up on the underside of a person’s heel bone over a gradual period of time, he or she has developed “heel spurs,” which leads to foot pain. This condition can be the result of strain and stretching of the foot muscles and ligaments, as well as tears to the membrane covering the heel bone. Symptoms of heel spurs consist mostly of occasional or sharp chronic pain when walking, and this can lead to inflammation. This condition may be diagnosed through X-rays. For most cases of foot spurs, treatment may involve particular stretching exercises, physical therapy, placing inserts in the patient’s shoes to serve as a cushion, or even upgrading to better-designed shoes. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
When a nail (usually on the big toe), grows into the flesh of a person’s foot, they have an ingrown toenail. An ingrown toenail can be caused by failing to cut the nails properly, stubbing a toe, or it may be due to a congenital condition, where the nail is bigger than the toe. Symptoms can include the obvious feeling of pain and swelling on the ingrown nail. This condition may be diagnosed through a physical exam. Where treatment is concerned, lifting the toenail and placing cotton or a splint under it may help, as the nail is separated from the overlying skin. To help the healing process, the toe must be soaked on a daily basis, along with replacing the separating material. Severe cases may require partial or even full removal of the nail and its underlying tissue may be necessary. Medication or antibiotics may also be prescribed to prevent infection.
The sole of the foot is referred to as the “plantar” surface of the foot. If the tissue that spans the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed, the condition is “plantar fasciitis.” This condition can be the result of everything from extensive walking or running to wearing poorly designed shoes that can damage the feet. Symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis may include extreme, stabbing-like pains close to the heel of the foot, which can be worse when the person suffering from the condition wakes up in the morning. More often than not, this condition can be diagnosed through a physical exam. Mild cases of plantar fasciitis can be treated with physical therapy and placing inserts in the patient’s shoes as an extra cushion against discomfort. Sometimes, if the case is severe, steroid injections or surgery may be necessary.
If toenails become brittle, discolored, and ragged, they have likely become infected with a fungus. It is important for this condition to be treated, as the fungus could spread and infect other toenails, skin, as well as fingernails. Toenail fungus tends to affect men more than women, and also occurs with advancing age. Although the symptoms are visible, anyone who may be experiencing what they believe to be toenail fungus should get a professional diagnosis from either a podiatrist or dermatologist. Treatment options for toenail fungus include creams or ointments, medicated nail polish, and prescription pills. More severe cases of this condition may require having the toenail removed through surgery.
Warts that grow on the heel and ball of the foot are known as “plantar warts,” which are caused by the human papillomavirus (or HPV). Since plantar warts develop on the bottom of the foot, they cause obvious pain and discomfort. Aside from the pain, plantar warts may also grow inward from the pressure of standing or walking. Symptoms other than pain from plantar warts include visibly hardened skin that appears on the affected area of the bottom of the foot and clotted blood vessels that look like dart pinpoints. While plantar warts can go away on their own, they should obviously be treated if the pain is too great, and especially if they start to bleed. Treatment options include over-the-counter ointments. More severe cases of this condition may require minor surgery.