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Foot or Leg Injury? Know Your Symptoms & Treatment Options

Every athlete knows that an injury is bound to happen at some point. It simply comes with the turf. Ankle, foot, and knee injuries are some of the common sports injuries, affecting virtually all athletes, regardless of the sport, level of contact, or even performance level. Children, varsity high school athletes, weekend warriors, and world-class Olympic competitors alike are susceptible to foot and leg injuries.

Prepare yourself (and your team) ahead of time by reviewing these first aid tips for common sports injuries. Also, be sure to read our Injury Prevention Tips.

Treating Foot, Ankle & Knee Injuries in Phoenix, Mesa & Tempe

At Hedley Orthopaedic Institute, orthopaedic surgeons and sports medicine specialists can treat any injury of the foot or leg, using advanced surgical and non-surgical treatments. In fact, about 90 percent of all sports injuries can be treated non-surgically, including many of the injuries listed below. New stem cell and platelet-rich plasma therapies are revolutionizing the healing process for athletes at all levels.

A sports medicine specialist with extensive knowledge in non-surgical treatment modalities is a tremendous benefit to any athlete. Because surgery usually delays an athlete’s ability to return to the game, non-surgical treatment is preferred when at all possible. When you do need surgery though, the sports medicine physicians at Hedley Orthopaedic Institute can refer you to some of Arizona’s best. In fact, your sports medicine specialist may even be your surgeon at Hedley.

Learn more about what a sports medicine physician does.

11 Common Lower Limb Sports Injuries

The below resource can help you learn the difference between many common foot, leg, and ankle sports injuries. If you’re experiencing pain in any of these regions, you can reference this list to see if your symptoms match up with a particular type of injury.

Please note: this resource is not intended for use as a self-diagnostic tool. If you experience any sports- or activity-related injury that does not resolve itself in a few days with rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, let your physician know. Only a medical professional can diagnose your sports injury. (Schedule an appointment with a sports medicine physician in Phoenix, Mesa, or Tempe online or by calling 602-553-3113.)

Sprain

A sprain is an injury to a ligament – typically caused when a ligament stretches too far or in an unnatural direction. A ligament is a thick, tough, fibrous tissue that connects bones together. The most commonly injured ligaments in the lower leg are the ankle and knee. Sprain severity is described by three grades, which range from minor stretching/tearing to total rupture.

SymptomsBasic sprain symptoms include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Moderate sprain symptoms include moderate to severe pain, difficulty applying pressure to the joint, swelling, stiffness, and minor bruising. Severe sprain symptoms include severe pain, joint swelling, and extensive bruising.

TreatmentGrade 1 and low-Grade 2 sprains can be treated using the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Higher-grade sprains may require surgical repair and/or physical therapy.

Strain

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon that is usually caused by overstretching or tearing. Three types of strains can occur: the muscle can tear; a muscle and tendon blend can tear; or, a tendon can partially tear or completely rupture.

SymptomsStrain symptoms include swelling, bruising, or redness. Pain when the muscle or related joint is used. Pain even while at rest. General weakness of the affected muscle or tendon. In some cases, you may not be able to use the strained muscle at all.

Treatment Ice should be used to treat an acute strain. This helps minimize swelling. Low-grade strains usually resolve themselves. However, if pain, loss of function, or weakness in the joint continues, you may wish to schedule an appointment with a sports medicine physician in Phoenix. A physician may provide you with a brace or at-home rehabilitation exercises. A sports medicine physician may also refer you to a physical therapist.

Meniscal Tear

The menisci are cartilaginous cushions between the shinbone and thighbone. A torn meniscus, an extremely common knee injury, is a type of cartilage injury (see below) that occurs when the knee is forced to twist or rotate with the body’s weight dependent on it.

SymptomsMeniscal tears can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the knee. You may note a popping sensation in the knee when the meniscus tears. It can be difficult to straighten or move the knee after this injury.

TreatmentIn most cases, basic RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) can help the body repair the meniscus on its own. In more severe cases, physical therapy and/or surgery may be necessary. Surgical treatments include repair, debridement, and transplantation.

Cartilage Injury

There are three different types of cartilage in the body, but the two types that are most likely to be injured during athletic activity are fibrocartilage (see meniscal tears above) and articular cartilage, which covers joint surfaces. Articular cartilage may become injured as a result of a traumatic event; or it may degenerate over time with normal wear and tear.

SymptomsCommon symptoms of cartilage damage include stiffness, joint pain, swelling, and a limited range of motion in the affected joint.

TreatmentWhen treatment is necessary, many articular cartilage injuries can be repaired arthroscopically. Some patients with articular damage in the knee may undergo a minimally invasive knee resurfacing procedure to restore movement in the knee.

Stress Fracture

A stress fracture is a tiny crack in the bone caused by repetitive force and overuse. Stress fractures in the feet are somewhat common in runners and athletes who participate in sports on a hard surface (e.g. basketball players, tennis players, etc.). Stress fractures may also occur in patients with osteoporosis.

SymptomsStress fracture symptoms include pain, swelling, and concentrated tenderness. Pain may increase with activity and then decrease with rest. Stress fracture symptoms tend to worsen without self-care or treatment. You may notice your symptoms beginning earlier in each successive workout.

TreatmentMany stress fractures will resolve themselves with rest. Your sports medicine physician can monitor the progress of your healing and issue a return-to-play clearance once your stress fracture has healed. Your physician may also provide you with a walking boot or crutches, if necessary. Surgery is not usually necessary for treating these types of fractures. However, your sports med doctor can refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon if need be.

Shin Splints

A shin splint is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue near the tibia (shinbone). Shin splints can cause pain after exercise – especially after running. Individuals with flat feet or worn-out footwear may be at a greater risk for developing shin splints.

SymptomsShin splint pain runs along the inner edge of the tibia. It can be either sharp or throbbing. Mild swelling may develop, as well. Some shin splints may be tender to the touch. Shin splints occur during and after exercise.

TreatmentShin splints do not require any interventional treatment. Basic R.I.C.E. can alleviate symptoms. If you regularly suffer from shin splints, ask your sports medicine physician what shoes or orthotic devices might alleviate symptoms. If your shin splints do not go away, then you may wish to consult with a physician, as you could actually have a stress fracture or tendinitis.

Joint Dislocation

Joint dislocation occurs when the two articular surfaces of a joint are no longer in the proper position. In the foot and leg, ankle dislocation and knee (patellar) dislocation are the two most common forms of joint dislocation. Ankle dislocation is almost always associated with a break or fracture. Knee dislocation usually occurs when the knee suddenly changes direction, causing stress on the kneecap.

SymptomsWhether or not there is bone damage, an ankle dislocation is extremely painful. The joint is sensitive to the touch and unable to bear any weight. Pain may radiate out into the foot or calf. Kneecap dislocation symptoms include bent/deformed appearance of the knee, pain, swelling, tenderness, inability to straighten the leg, and a hypermobile kneecap, which moves too much right to left. Both of these sports injuries require immediate medical attention.

Treatment Treatment for a dislocated ankle may involve realignment under anesthetic, stabilization, or the use of a boot or brace for several weeks. Your sports medicine physician will go over your options and post-treatment guidelines. Kneecap: if possible, the knee should be straightened soon after being dislocated. A sports medicine physician may place you in a cast to prevent movement for a few weeks. After a period of immobilization, a physical therapist may work with you to strengthen your knee and improve range of motion. In some cases, surgery is needed to stabilize the knee.

Achilles Tendinitis

The Achilles tendon connects the back of the heel to the calf muscles, allowing you to run and jump. Like any tendon, the Achilles tendon can rupture entirely. However, Achilles tendinitis – inflammation of the tendon – is a much more common sports injury. Achilles tendinitis is usually brought on by repetitive stress, not an acute injury. Chronic Achilles tendinitis is known as Achilles tendinosis.

SymptomsAchilles tendinitis can cause pain and stiffness around the Achilles tendon (especially in the morning). Pain may worsen with activity and be quite severe the day following exercise. As a result of continuous use, the tendon may thicken, and the area may swell.

TreatmentSymptoms of Achilles tendinitis may be relieved non-surgically with R.I.C.E. in most cases. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, may also help with pain relief. Stem cell injection and/or platelet-rich plasma injections may be potential treatment options. Your sports medicine physician may refer you to a physical therapist, who can show you many exercises to help strengthen the calf muscles, thereby alleviating stress on the Achilles tendon. If your symptoms do not improve after six months of non-surgical treatment, then your sports medicine physician may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon. Surgeons perform several procedures for treating Achilles tendinitis, including lengthening of the calf muscle and removal of damaged Achilles tendon tissue.

Learn more about Achilles tendon pain

Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain)

“Runner’s knee” is a catchall term used to refer to several painful conditions frequently experienced by runners, cyclists, soccer players, and other athletes who put a lot of stress on their knees. The condition may be caused by misalignment or dislocation of the kneecap (see above), injury, unhealthy thigh muscles, or flat feet.

SymptomsRunner’s knee is usually experienced as a dull pain under or around the front of the kneecap. Pain may also be experienced where the kneecap meets the thighbone. This pain is most pronounced when bending the knee or walking downstairs. Other symptoms include a popping sensation in the knee and swelling.

TreatmentAs with many sports injuries, basic R.I.C.E. is a first-response treatment method. NSAIDs can also help alleviate symptoms. If your symptoms do not improve within a few days, you may wish to schedule an appointment with a sports medicine doctor in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, or a location convenient to you. A sports medicine physician may advise you on certain exercises and techniques to help improve symptoms. In some cases, surgical realignment of the knee or arthroscopy to remove damaged cartilage may be necessary.

Arch/Heel Pain & Strain

The foot arch is supported by a special connective tissue known as plantar fascia. This supportive tissue essentially functions as a shock-absorber. Runners, joggers, and individuals with high, rigid arches are most likely to strain the foot arch.

SymptomsFoot arch strain may be felt when landing on the foot or pushing off. Pain may be present when waking up in the morning, while exercising, and for some time after exercising.

Treatment Foot arch strain may be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Arch supports may be worn in shoes, as well, to alleviate pain. Low impact exercises like swimming may be advised during this recovery period.

Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps (also referred to as “charley horses”) are sudden muscle spasms ­– common to endurance athletes. The sudden, involuntary cramps usually develop about four to six hours into a prolonged exercise session. They are also more common in athletes during the preseason when the body still isn’t used to intense exercise.

SymptomsThe pain of a muscle cramp can range from intense to just a slight tic. The cramp can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes or more. Some muscle cramps are recurring. Depending on which muscles are cramping, you may be able to see or feel the tightened muscles beneath the skin.

Treatment Most cramps will resolve on their own without medical intervention. If you experience a muscle cramp, cease activity and stretch slowly, holding the stretch until the cramp goes away. If necessary, apply heat to tight muscles and cold to sore muscles.

Treatment for Your Foot/Leg Injury in Phoenix, Mesa or Tempe

The sports medicine physicians at Hedley Orthopaedic Institute treat all kinds of athletic injuries. If you’re concerned about your symptoms, don’t hesitate to call a sports medicine physician near you in Phoenix, Tempe, or Mesa at 602-553-3113. Learn more about services and conditions treated.

For more information about the treatment of foot, knee, and ankle injuries in Phoenix, Tempe, or Mesa, contact us. Or, schedule your appointment online.

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