When we think about football injuries, concussions seem to always be the first to come to mind. Football players wear helmets to protect them from getting concussions. At the other end of the body, we have the very vulnerable feet and ankles. There’s no helmet-type protection from the foot and ankle injury possibilities caused by sudden starts and stops that are so important to the game or even by overuse that comes with the tremendous amount of training required to get ready for games.
All levels of football – from Pee-Wee to Professional – have the following foot and ankle injuries in common.
The ankle joint can be easily moved out of place when a football player runs and stops quickly, changes directions, or is tackled. The resulting tear in the ankle ligaments can cause pain, swelling, bruising, difficult mobility, and weakness in the ankle joint. Common sprains experienced by football players are high ankle sprains and Lisfranc injuries. Once a player has experienced an ankle injury, he is very likely to experience another.
Bones in the ankle, toes, and top of the foot are delicate. As such, they are easy to fracture. Ankle fractures occur when the ankle rolls inward or outward. Toe and top-of-the-foot fractures usually occur as the result of a direct hit or a bad landing. Fractures can cause swelling, bruising, pain, an inability to stand or walk, and an abnormal appearance of the area.
Because the symptoms of sprains and fractures are so similar, it is important to see Dr. Burmeister for an accurate diagnosis.
Bone bruises are typically caused by the impact that occurs during tackling. There can be pain, swelling, and bruising of the skin near the injured bone. It is always best to have Dr. Burmeister confirm that a contusion is just that and not a fracture.
While lacerations on the foot or ankle are not common due to playing football, they are still possible and should be examined and treated properly.
The pressure and stress caused by football’s sudden push-offs or lateral movements can cause tendons in the foot and ankle to “blow out”, or rupture. Ruptures of the Achilles tendon are most often noted. However, any of the other tendons in the foot and ankle – the peroneals, anterior tibialis, posterior tibialis – may also rupture. Ruptures can cause pain, swelling, bruising, weakness, and muscle bulging.
Occasionally, changing directions or being tackled cause a toe to get caught in the turf. The result is a painful hyperextension of the toe. Believe it or not, it’s enough to take a giant of a football player down and out of a game.
The youngest of our football players can experience an inflammation of the heel’s growth plate. Sever’s Disease is the result of football’s repeated stress and pressure on the back or bottom of the heel. It is a painful, but temporary condition.
Training camps and two-a-days mean that football players spend a great deal of time on their feet. This extra pounding and running often leads to overuse injuries. Plantar fasciitis is a cause of heel pain. Sesamoiditis is a cause of pain in the forefront of the foot. Stress fractures are tiny cracks that can appear in any of the bones of the ankle or foot. Tendonitis is a common overuse injury that causes pain and inflammation to any of the tendons of the foot or ankle.
So what’s a football player to do? Get proper coaching, stretch before playing, strengthen the feet and ankles, and wear football-appropriate shoes. If you are susceptible to having foot and ankle issues, have a team meeting with Dr. Burmeister and his professional staff to develop a care and prevention game plan that will keep you on the field and off the injured reserve list. Go Team!