Anyone who exercises or plays sports at any level always runs a risk of injury. But, did you know that three of the most common sports injuries start at the bottom of your feet? No matter what sport or exercise you enjoy, most athletic injuries begin where you make contact with the ground. From there, the three most common injuries can be found progressively up through the leg.
1. Plantar Fasciitis – Heel Health
Most of us walk 5,000 or more steps a day without noticing the exceptional role that the tendons in our feet play. However, the most common sports injury involves the feet and can make itself known instantly and painfully. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the tough, fibrous tendon that runs in the arch of the foot to the heel is excessively strained. Painful symptoms can be felt in varying degrees of severity at the heel or through the bottom of the foot. Walking or standing for long periods of time can be difficult and running is out of the question.
Generally, plantar fasciitis happens when someone spends a lot of time running or sprinting. However, poor footwear, regularly standing on your feet for long periods, having flat feet or high arches, or being overweight can compound the risk. For most people, overuse and excessive physical fatigue are the typical causes of the injury.
Prevention – Relax!
To help prevent plantar fasciitis, train yourself to go easy on your lower legs. When you’re walking, sitting, or standing, take some time to consciously relax your legs, calves and ankles. The more you can take tension out of your legs, the more you’ll protect your feet. If you’re a runner, avoid heel striking by running with a mid-foot strike. Gentle, regular stretching of your calf muscle and ankles can help keep your feet healthy and pain-free. Be sure to check your footwear for proper support, but remember, in most cases, plantar fasciitis is caused by overuse and poor movement habits.
2. Next Up: Ankle Sprain
Just above the foot, is the next common sports injury area. Ankle sprains, the leading reason for lost time in sports, can happen to professional athletes and weekend warriors alike. These painful sprains are the familiar injuries that usually happen when the ankle twists or turns in from planting your foot in the wrong place. You might be landing from a jump or slip while hiking or running. The severity of a sprain depends on how much the ligaments surrounding the ankle are stretched or torn. Anytime you experience sharp ankle pain, see your doctor to determine if you simply rolled the ankle or if you have an actual tear.
Prevention – Balance!
Of the many things you can do to help prevent ankle sprains, improving your balance is at the top of the list. You can consult with a physical therapist or trainer for the best balance exercises, but simply balancing on one foot at a time is a good place to start. Exercise for strengthening and increasing flexibility around the ankle can go a long way to protecting it. There are many resources online, just be sure to find a routine that you’ll stay with.
3. ACL Strain – Know Your Knees
Not surprisingly, the next major injury area happens at the knee, most commonly to the ACL ligament. A twisting, sudden stop to grab a pet, or a slip on a wet hiking path can strain the fibrous tissue in your ACL. Research has shown that female athletes have a nearly three times greater risk for ACL injuries. the reasons are unclear, but it’s been suggest that hormonal differences may effect ligament strength and stiffness. However, steps to help prevent ACL strains can help anyone better stabilize their knees.
Prevention – Endurance!
There is no perfect exercise to prevent an ACL strain, but working to maintain strength and endurance in your legs will help. Think balance, agility and power. Focus on active warm ups, stretching routines, strengthening such as leg press and squats, and building endurance on a stationary bike, elliptical trainer, or doing agility drills such as jogging around cones. The important takeaway to protect your ACL is work on leg strength and flexibility at least once a week. And if you’re unable to exercise regularly for several weeks, be sure to gradually ease back in to your favorite activities.