Foot and Ankle Injuries from Spring Sports
March and April here in the mountains can offer a wonderfully diverse range of opportunities for athletes of all ages. We all know winter is far from over and some of the best powder days may still be yet to come. However, as the weather is getting warmer, the school sports teams are starting to take advantage of dry ground and clear turf to start training for the season. From soccer and lacrosse, to track and field, many young athletes are making the transition to a different level of activity. As foot and ankle specialists, Dr. Maurer and Dr. Bernhard strongly urge parents and coaches to think twice before coaxing young, injury-prone athletes to “play through” foot and ankle pain.
With skeletally-immature kids, sudden starts and stops, and moving side-to-side on cleats that are little more than moccasins with spikes, can be a recipe for foot and ankle sprains (and worse). Kids will play with lingering, nagging heel pain that may be just an inflammation of the growth plate or, even worse, turn out to be a stress fracture. By playing with pain, kids can’t give their team 100-percent and can make injuries worse, prolonging their time out of sports. Symptoms of stress fractures include pain during normal activity, pain when pressure is applied to the area, and swelling (with or without bruising). Treatment usually involves rest, and sometimes casting. Some stress fractures may heal poorly and potentially require surgery.
Soccer and lacrosse are very popular sports in our community, but the constant running places a great deal of stress on developing feet. The pain from overuse usually stems from inflammation, such as around the growth plate of the heel bone, more so than a stress fracture. Their growth plates are still open and bones are growing and maturing – until they’re about 13 to 16. Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication, and, in some cases, immobilization of the foot should relieve the inflammation. Other types of overuse injuries common in these athletes include Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis (heel pain caused by inflammation of the tissue extending from the heel to the toes).
The side-to-side motion involved in many spring sports predisposes athletes to ankle injuries. Ankle sprains should be evaluated by a physician to assess the extent of the injury. If an ankle stays swollen for days and is painful to walk or even stand on, it could indicate a fracture.
Collisions between players can take their toll on toes. When two feet are coming at a soccer ball simultaneously, that ball turns into a cement block and goes nowhere. The weakest point in that transaction is usually the foot, with broken toes the outcome. The toes may swell up so much the player can’t get a shoe on, which is a sign for young athletes and their parents – if they are having trouble just getting a shoe on, they shouldn’t play.
Young athletes should prepare for their sports season by being smart about training, including doing proper warmups and cooldowns. Parents should be conscious of proper fit for running shoes and cleats as kids grow from season to season. Finally, listen to your young athlete if they complain of an ache or pain that lingers – it could be a sign of a more serious problem that needs medical attention.
Spring can be an exciting time for kids as they transition to different sports, but that excitement can wane if an early season injury takes them out of the game!