February Articles 2015

Pregnancy and Foot Health

Many pregnant women complain about foot pain while they are expecting, primarily caused by weight gain and hormonal changes taking place in the body. By understanding how pregnancy impacts the health of a woman's feet, a pregnant woman can take action to keep her feet as healthy and comfortable as possible.

Because a woman's weight changes during pregnancy, more pressure is brought to bear on both the legs and the feet. This weight shift can cause two major foot problems: over-pronation, also known as flat feet, as well as edema, which is swelling of the feet. Over-pronation occurs when the arch of the foot flattens, causing the foot to roll inwards when the individual is walking, and can aggravate the plantar fascia tissues located along the bottom of the feet. If these tissues become inflamed, a pregnant woman can experience pain in the heel of the foot as well as severe foot pain while walking or standing. Swelling of the feet, or edema, often occurs in the later stages of pregnancy, caused by slow circulation and water retention, and may turn the feet a light purple color.

To keep feet in good health and prevent over-pronation, pregnant women should avoid walking barefoot and be sure they are wearing shoes that offer good arch support. Often a device known as an orthotic can be added to regular footwear in order to provide additional support for the feet during pregnancy. Any expectant mother whose feet hurt should first check to see if the shoes she is wearing are old, worn out and not offering the arch of the foot the proper support necessary to support and distribute the weight of her body during pregnancy.

To treat edema of the feet, a good start is to wear quality footwear which offers support and good circulation. Keep feet elevated whenever possible by using a foot stool while seated. Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water to prevent water retention in the feet. Any swelling that occurs in only one foot should be examined as soon as possible by a doctor.

Good foot health during pregnancy can help expectant mothers avoid foot pain that leads to other health problems. Massaging the feet and doing regular gentle exercise like walking aids in foot health by contributing to good circulation. Supportive shoes are also a good investment that will support foot health during pregnancy.

Heel Pain

Heel pain is a stressful condition that effects day to day activities. Running and walking causes stress on the heel because the heel is the part of the foot that hits the ground first. This means that the heel is taking on your entire weight. Diagnosis and treatments for heel pain can be easily found through your podiatrist.

One of the main causes of heel pain is a condition known as plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a band of tissue that extends along the bottom of the foot, from the toe to the bottom of the heel. A rip or tear in this ligament can cause inflammation of these tissues, resulting in heel pain. People who do not wear proper fitting shoes are often at risk of developing problems such as plantar fasciitis. Unnecessary stress from ill fitting shoes, weight change, excessive running, and wearing non-supportive shoes on hard surfaces are all causes of plantar fasciitis.

Achilles tendonitis is another cause of heel pain. Similar to plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the Achilles tendon will cause heel pain due to stress fractures and muscle tearing. A lack of flexibility of the ankle and heel is an indicator of Achilles tendonitis. If left untreated, this condition can lead to plantar fasciitis and cause even more pain on your heel.

A third cause of heel pain is a heel spur. A heel spur occurs when the tissues of the plantar fascia undergo a great deal of stress, leading to a separation of the ligament from the heel bone entirely. This results in a pointed fragment of bone on the ball of the foot, known as a heel spur.

Treatments for heel pain are easy and effective as long as problems are addressed quickly. The most common solution is simply taking stress off the feet, particularly off of the heel. This will ease the pain and allow the tendons and ligaments to relax. In the case of both plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, icing will reduce swelling of any part of the foot and anti-inflammatory medication is highly recommended. Properly fitting your shoes and wearing heel pads or comfort insoles will also reduce the risk of developing heel pain. Stretching before and after exercises such as running will help the foot muscles prepare for stress and lower the chances of inflammatory pain. In extreme cases, relieving heel   pain might require surgery. Always make sure to discuss these symptoms and treatment options with your podiatrist to keep yourself active and pain free.


All About Broken Ankles

Broken ankles are a very serious injury which, if not properly treated, can lead to continuous pain and an inability to walk. An ankle is made up of at least three major bones--the tibia, fibula, and talus. The tibia and fibula are the two bones that connect to your knees. They sit directly upon the talus bone, protected by a fibrous membrane that allows slight movement in our ankle joint. When the ankle is broken, it is because the foot rolled under or twisted too far, causing one or more of these three bones to break.

An ankle sprain occurs when ligaments are ripped or torn but no bones were broken. A sprain can be very severe, causing severe bruising of the foot and an inability to hold weight. In the case of broken ankles, the bones broken in this region could be numerous. If a person cannot stand their own weight on their ankle then it is most likely a broken ankle. The best thing to do if you suspect you have a broken ankle is to get an x-ray to determine the severity of the break immediately. The longer you wait to be diagnosed, the longer the healing process will take.

The most common cause of a broken ankle is when the foot has rolled over on itself, usually while engaged in exercise, physical activity, or sports. Another common cause is from a jump of great height. It is most important to seek medical treatment if one suspects they have broken ankles. A doctor can determine if surgery is needed in order to heal correctly. Without medical assistance after such an injury, a person may suffer severe arthritis and pain later in life. In some cases, an operation may be the only option to ensure the ability to walk properly again.

Broken ankles will cause severe pain. It will help to elevate the feet above your head to reduce blood flow to the injured area, as well as applying ice to the ankles to help decrease swelling. If surgery is required, it usually means an ankle cast for at least three months and then rehabilitation. Rehabilitation can be painful, using atrophied muscles and building tendon strength.

It is important to determine if surgery is needed as a broken ankle can become more severe than you realize. If not professionally treated, the broken ankle bones will inhibit your ability to walk properly.



What Are Ankle/Foot Orthotics?

Orthotics is a medical field concerned with the design, manufacture and use of aids used to support weak limbs or direct the proper function of limbs, in this case the foot and ankle. Ankle-foot orthotics, or AFOs, are braces worn at the ankle that encompass some or all of the foot. Diseases that affect the musculature or weaken the affected area require AFOs to strengthen the muscles or train in the proper direction. Tight muscles that need to be lengthened and loosened also benefit from AFOs.

When we think of diseases that affect the musculature we think of the big boys: muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, polio and multiple sclerosis. We rarely think that arthritis and stroke can affect the musculature or that there are some who "toe in". But whatever trauma affects that musculature, there is a way to correct it. The orthosis helps to control range of motion, provide support by stabilizing walk, correct deformities and manage pain load. A podiatrist would be consulted for those who "toe in", for instance, or an arthritis sufferer whose ankles suffer through walking on the job or perhaps a victim of stroke whose musculature is wasting away and requires strength.

Before the advent of modern orthotic devices, it wasn’t uncommon to see polio victims wearing metal braces from mid thigh to the bottom of the foot, or children who "toed in" wearing metal braces around their ankle and foot. However, both designs and materials have improved dramatically, allowing for new levels of comfort, functionality, and appearance. Many orthotics are now made from plastics in the shape of an L and designed to fit inside a corrective shoe. These can be rigid, buckling at the calf and extending the length of the foot to support the ankle. This same design except with a hinged ankle provides support while walking by normalizing the gait. In the past boots lined with leather and fiberboard provided the rigidity needed for correction and support. Now corrective shoes are available with built up soles to correct the gait or manage pain by sharing it with another area when the foot spreads during walking.

The podiatrist would prescribe this orthosis in the rigid L shape because the foot moves on a hinge. If the hinge isn't functioning as intended due to an injury or malformation, the muscles tighten up, thus making it difficult to flex the foot. When we walk, the foot flexes and muscles stretch. This brace or AFO would support the ankle and musculature during flexion of the foot, in much the same way a knee brace works. Corrective shoes are for people whose feet hit the ground backward, causing tight muscles and arch problems. Wedges and rocker bars on the heels correct the step to heel first and rock onto the ball of the foot, resulting in relaxed musculature and strengthened ankles.

Appearance also counts when we consider a particular support device, especially if the item is intended for regular, daily wear. The L shaped orthotic is contoured to the calf and flesh-colored, fitting into a sneaker or dress shoe. As present, corrective shoes are more attractive than past models, enabling patients wear such devices with greater comfort and confidence.