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Foot and Ankle Pain - Dr. John Atwater

Foot and ankle pain can limit your mobility, wake you up in the night, or even be embarrassing. If you believe you may have a foot or ankle condition, talk to your doctor. If you believe your foot or ankle is broken, seek medical attention immediately.

Pain in the foot or ankle is common. In fact, 75% percent of Americans experience a foot problem in their life. Women are four times more likely to experience foot or ankle problems than men are.

At OSA, we want your life to improve. We recognize that foot and ankle conditions can get in the way of the activities you love, affect your work life, and be downright annoying. However, help is available. Our experienced doctors and staff work with patients to develop treatment plans that suit their needs and lifestyle. We focus on giving you control over your path to recovery.

The Anatomy of the Foot and Ankle

The foot:

  • Feet are flexible body parts that are made up of bones, joints, muscles, and soft tissues that help us to stand and move.
  • Your feet contain a total of 52 bones; that’s 25% of the bones in your body.
  • The forefoot contains 5 toes and the bones that connect each toe to the foot.
  • The midfoot is a group of bones that form the foot’s arch.
  • The hindfoot contains the bones that form the heel and ankle. Theses bones are larger than the other bones in the foot, and they help to support the bones in the leg.
  • Muscles, tendons, and ligaments run throughout the bones of the foot. Damage to any of these impact balance and movement.
  • The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the foot, and it allows the body to jump and run. When you stand on your tiptoes, you can feel the Achilles tendon flex.

The ankle:

  • The ankle bone, also called the talus, sits in a socket formed by the end of the shinbone and the fibula, a bone in the lower leg. The ankle bone works like a hinge, allowing your ankle to move in several directions.
  • These bones are covered in cartilage that helps them move smoothly against each other.
  • The ankle bones are also supported by ligaments, which connect the bones to each other, and tendons, which connect the bones to muscles.

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Causes of Foot and Ankle Pain

  • Sports injuries
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Falls
  • Old age
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Poor footwear, especially high heels
  • Flat feet
  • Genetics
  • Bacteria, viruses, and fungus

How Foot and Ankle Pain Conditions are Diagnosed

Your orthopedic doctor will ask you various questions about your history, lifestyle, and how your symptoms affect your daily life. Your doctor will also ask about the severity of your foot and ankle pain and will check for swelling, deformity, or discoloration. These questions and observations can help diagnose your condition, but they also help doctors narrow down types of treatments that would be most suitable for your unique experience.

Here are some ways you can help your doctor understand your foot and ankle pain:

  • Bring all medical records, scans, and recent laboratory results to your appointment. This is important!
  • Tell your doctor the type of pain you are having (dull or sharp) and how often.
  • Tell your doctor if you’ve noticed any changes to the skin on or around your foot.
  • Tell your doctor if you have any other health problems, even if they don’t seem related to your ankles or feet.

Many doctors will want to see what’s going on inside your body. They may order one or more of the following:

  • X-rays
  • MRIs
  • CT Scans
  • Blood Tests

Surgical and Non-Surgical Treatments

For many patients, surgery is the last resort. In fact, many patients find that over time their foot and ankle pain gets better by itself or with some simple treatments. Other times, however, the pain will persist despite non-surgical and surgical treatments.

Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Physical therapy
  • RICE: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation
  • Massages
  • Massages
  • Antibacterial and antifungal medication or creams
  • Pain medication
  • Cortisone injections to relieve swelling
  • Weight loss
  • New shoes
  • Orthotics, or shoe inserts

The type of surgery you receive depends on your diagnosis; however, common foot and ankle surgeries include:

  • Bunion surgery: Although there are several types of bunion surgeries, each involves realigning or removing soft bone and other tissue that has developed around the big toe. Bunion surgery can help restore balance and relieve pain.
  • Ankle fusion: This surgery helps relieve some of the negative side effects of ankle arthritis by fusing the ankle joints together. In this surgery, the surgeon removes the cartilage around the ankle joint, positions the ankle properly, and inserts materials (screws or rods) to hold the bones together while they knit together.
  • Achilles tendon repair surgery: The Achilles tendon is essential for basic mobility. In this procedure, the surgeon will reconnect the calf muscles and the heel bones together.
  • Metatarsal surgery: The metatarsal bones are the long bones located behind each toe. Surgery on these bones helps relieve bunions, calluses on the back of the foot, or the side effects of arthritis. In this surgery, the surgeon cuts along the bone, elevates the bone, and inserts a metal pin or screw to keep the bone in position. The pin typically remains in the foot for about a month, then it is removed.

Talk to your doctor if you would like to try any of these treatments for your foot and ankle pain. They can help you develop a safe, long-term plan for better health and mobility.