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UPMC Physician: Keeping a Spring in Your Step

Spring is here. The days are getting longer, temperatures are rising, and the birds are singing. The cold, inclement weather we’re used to in the winter causes many of us to decrease our activity and stay indoors. Though this sounds cozy and is a better choice than walking on slippery surfaces and chancing a fall, inactivity can lead to aches and pains and pain in our lower limbs and feet. The decreased activity causes our muscles to weaken which can increase our risk of foot and ankle injuries, especially as we head back outside and increase our activity levels. As we transition from fluffy boots to stylish sandals, it’s important to keep our feet and ankles happy and free from injury.

The human body has a tremendous capacity to adapt to physical stress. While we tend to think of “stress” negatively, physical stress, which is simply exercise and activity, is beneficial for our bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, making them stronger and more functional by the repetitive breakdown and buildup of tissue.

High-impact exercise can help strengthen the muscles and bones of our lower extremities, which can improve balance and stability. It also increases blood flow to the feet and improves overall cardiovascular health. However, high-impact exercise may put too much stress on our ankles and feet, particularly the plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot) and the bones and joints in the feet. This can lead to injuries such as stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, as well as several Achilles tendon disorders.

Ensure the spring remains in your step as you put your best foot forward. To avoid injury, it’s important to gradually increase the intensity of your activities to avoid overuse injuries. Low-impact exercise, such as walking, is great exercise for your feet and can help improve your overall health. As you work up to your summer activity goals, mix up your routine so that days with high-impact activity are balanced out by days with low-impact activity. This will provide your body with the rest it needs to build strength, endurance, and flexibility. Resting is important for reducing fatigue, improving circulation, preventing injuries, and alleviating pain.

In addition to a gradual ramping up of activity, you’ll want to take certain precautions to help avoid foot and ankle pain.

Stretch and Warm Up: Stretching your feet can help to improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and prevent cramps and injuries. Try doing simple exercises, like ankle rotations or toe curls, to stretch and strengthen your feet.

Make Sure the Shoe Fits: Whether your fitness routine finds you running on the beach or blazing the local trail, you need to wear the proper shoes for your activity. Good shoes will fit comfortably, let your feet breathe, and provide proper arch support. Avoid wearing tight shoes for extended periods. This can reduce the risk of developing painful conditions such as corns and bunions. Also be sure to alternate your shoes, giving them time to dry out between wears. This can also help to prevent foot odor and reduce the risk of infections.

Maintain a Healthy Weight: The weight of your body stresses your feet with each step. The more weight you carry, the more pressure you put on these two appendages. Research has linked a higher body mass index (BMI) with a greater likelihood of developing pain in the foot joints. Obesity also increases the risk of diabetes, which can damage nerves in the feet.

The adage “no pain, no gain” is dangerous advice. While minor pain and discomfort may be your body’s response to the increased activity and breaking down and building up of muscle, debilitating pain is cause for concern. Don’t push through the pain or you may end up sidelined into summer. If you have pain or problems that persist, worsen, or don’t improve with rest, seek professional help.

Consult a podiatrist or orthopaedic specialist who can diagnose and treat foot, ankle, and lower extremity conditions. Many injuries and conditions of the foot and ankle can be treated without surgery, but when an operative procedure is needed, advances allow orthopaedic surgeons to offer a broad range of options, including minimally invasive procedures.

By Christine Nolan, D.P.M.
UPMC Orthopaedic Care

Christine Nolan, DPM, is a foot and ankle specialist with UPMC Orthopaedic Care. She sees patients at Foot & Ankle Specialty Care located at 1201 Grampian Blvd., Williamsport, and 215 East Water St., Muncy. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 570-321-2020.