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Physical Therapy for Your Feet and Ankles: Kicking the Pain

Do you find yourself missing out on many of your favorite activities due to foot and ankle pain? The amount of time we spend on our feet on any given day is extraordinary. From soft tissue strains and degenerative joint problems to broken bones, problems afflicting the foot and/or ankle can put serious constraints on your life. But you don’t have to let your foot and ankle pain dictate your mobility and comfort.

Because of this, if you are suffering from foot or ankle pain, your daily life can suddenly become impacted.

From soft tissue strains and degenerative joint problems to broken bones, problems afflicting the foot and/or ankle can put serious constraints on your life.

But you don’t have to let your foot and ankle pain dictate your mobility and comfort. Physical therapy can get you back on your feet again, so contact our clinic to talk to our physical therapist about a personalized treatment plan!

How does foot and ankle pain develop?

It is no secret that both your feet and ankles are very complex structures. They must work together in harmony in order to function at their optimal levels. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the ankle joint consists of three bones that all must interact with one another correctly, in addition to the various connective tissues that hold the assembly of the joint together.

However, it may come as a surprise that the foot is an even more complex part of the body than the ankle. The foot is comprised of approximately two dozen bones, 30 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Due to all the complicated structures that make up your feet and ankles, the pain felt in those areas is extremely common.

What’s causing my foot or ankle pain?

Some causes of acute foot and ankle pain may seem straightforward enough. A fracture in one of the many foot or ankle bones will obviously cause intense pain that prevents you from putting any weight on it. “Turning” your ankle by accidentally hyperextending it inward or outward can cause an acute strain (stretching or tearing of tendons or muscles) or a sprain (stretching or tearing of the ligaments).

Other causes of foot pain may prove harder to figure out because you can’t connect them to a particular accident or traumatic event. These chronic foot pain problems include:

  • Tendonitis. Tendonitis occurs when the tendons are excessively overused, causing them to become inflamed for prolonged periods of time.
  • Strains and sprains. A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched too far, while a sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched too far or is torn.
  • Fracture. When excessive force or trauma is put on a bone, it can crack or break entirely. This is known as a fracture. A fracture to the foot or ankle could result in weeks of downtime to ensure proper healing.
  • Arthritis. Arthritis is common and causes painful inflammation to the joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types of arthritis that patients experience. Both types can greatly impact the foot and ankle joints, resulting in pain and decreased function.
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome. The tarsal tunnel is the nerve that runs from the ankle to the foot. When it becomes pinched or inflamed, tarsal tunnel syndrome occurs.
  • Bursitis. Everyone has anti-friction sacs in their joints, known as the “bursae.” When tendons rub against these sacs, bursitis occurs.
  • Fallen arches. Your arches are comprised of several tendons and ligaments for support. When the tendons pull together properly, your foot will form a proper arch. However, sometimes the tendons do not pull together properly, resulting in a very small arch, or no arch at all. This is referred to as “fallen arch” or “flat foot,” which can cause pain or discomfort over time.
  • Plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the connective tissue at the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed. It is most commonly caused by aggravated overuse, such as improper posture, constant standing, or footwear that lacks proper arch support.
  • Adhesions: collections of internal scar tissue (leftover from a previous injury) which limit ankle or foot motion.

How Physical Therapy Helps Foot and Ankle Pain

Why might you take your foot and ankle pain to a physical therapist? The most common alternatives, painkilling drugs, only provide temporary relief — and some of them can cause physical damage, dangerous interactions, or dependence. Physical therapy not only eases your pain safely and effectively; it also treats the underlying issues behind your pain so you can enjoy better function and health.

The physical therapy plan you receive for your foot or ankle problem will vary according to the exact cause of your pain and what stage of the problem you’re experiencing. Common techniques include:

  • Ice therapy – Applications of ice can help reduce acute swelling and pain in the first 72 hours following an injury.
  • Heat therapy – Heat is sometimes applied, either on its own or as a complement to ice therapy, to soothe inflammatory soft tissue pain.
  • Ultrasound, cold laser therapy, and electrical muscle stimulation – These techniques can all help you heal more quickly.
  • Manual therapy – Massage therapy and other forms of tissue manipulation can boost blood flow, ease pain, and break up adhesions.
  • Exercise – Range of motion exercises can help both chronic conditions such as arthritis and acute sprains or strains (after the initial swelling has come down). Strengthening and balancing exercises can increase joint stability and rehabilitate an injured foot/ankle.