Foot and Ankle Injuries

Author: Chloe Wilson - BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy

Foot and ankle injuries are a common problem. They may be caused by a sporting injury, a fall, overuse or even simply tripping or stumbling on something when out for a walk. Depending on the type of injury there may be instant pain and swelling, or it may gradually build up over a few days. 

Foot and ankle injuries may affect the bone or surrounding soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments. With any injury, early diagnosis and treatment is extremely important to avoid the risk of ongoing foot problems.

Here we will look at the most common foot and ankle injuries, what causes them and how they present. Then we will go on to look at the best treatment options for each.

Ligament Injuries

Ligaments are the strong, fibrous structures that connect bones together and provide stability at our joints. They are very strong, but not very elastic so they are easily damaged if they are over-stretched.

Ankle Sprain

Ligament injuries such as an ankle sprain are the most common of all foot and ankle injuries

A sprained ankle is one of the most common types of ankle injury. It is where one of the ankle ligaments gets over stretched, usually when the foot twists suddenly inwards, such as when you mis-step on a kerb or uneven ground. The foot is forced into an abnormal position which over-stretches the ligament which can cause it to tear. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can range from a minor tear to a complete rupture of the ligament. 

Pain is usually felt immediately with an ankle sprain and swelling and bruising comes on quickly. Early diagnosis and treatment is really important to reduce the risk of ongoing problems.

You can find out all about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options in the ankle sprain section, including how to reduce the risk of experiencing a twisted ankle.

Turf Toe

Turf Toe is a sprain of the big toe, caused by the toe bending back too far

Turf toe is a sprain of the big toe. It is a common sporting injury that develops when the big toe is bent too far backwards which damages the ligaments and joint capsule underneath the big toe. It may be caused by a one-off injury, or develop gradually due to repetitive force through the big toe. Playing sports on artificial surfaces rather than grass increases the risk of developing Turf Toe

Turf toe causes pain, bruising and inflammation around the big toe. You can find out all about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options in the Turf Toe injury section.

Tendon Injuries

Tendons are the structures that join muscles to bone. Like ligaments, they are strong and flexible, but inelastic. They are often damaged by over-stretching or over-use which cause small tears to develop in the tendon. This can lead to inflammation and degeneration, known as tendonitis, another of the more common foot and ankle injuries.

Foot & Ankle Tendonitis

Tendonitis is one of the most common of foot and ankle injuries.

Tendonitis is usually caused by repetitive overloading of a tendon. It can also develop due to dropped foot arches, medical conditions such as gout or other injuries such as an ankle sprain.

Foot and ankle tendonitis typically presents with pain, swelling and stiffness in the foot or ankle depending on which tendon is injured:

1) Achilles Tendonitis - behind the heel and in the lower calf
2) Extensor Tendonitis - on top of the foot 
3) Peroneal Tendonitis - on the outer side of your foot

You can find out everything you need to know about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of each of these in the foot and ankle tendonitis section.

Bone Injuries

Foot and ankle injuries may affect one or more of the 33 bones in the foot. 

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures normally occur in the metatarsals, navicular or heel bone

A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone. The most common type of fracture in the foot is a stress fracture, caused by excessive force or stress going through one or more of the foot bones. Stress fractures are a common sporting injury, particularly if you’ve recently taken up a new sport or have suddenly increased your training levels.

Stress fractures of the foot typically causes foot pain and swelling which get gradually worse and worse. There is usually tenderness over the break if you press on it.

Find out more about the common causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies in the Stress Fracture Foot section.

Joint Instability

If any of the 33 foot bones shift out of place slightly (sublux) or any of the joints become unstable, typically following foot and ankle injuries, then foot pain can develop.

The two most common examples of this are Sinus Tarsi Syndrome and Cuboid Syndrome, both of which can develop following an ankle sprain or due to repetitive strain to the area from frequent running and jumping. They are hard to diagnose and should be considered in anyone suffering from ongoing pain following an ankle sprain.

Sinus Tarsi Syndrome: Inflammation of the structures in sinus tarsi tunnel between the heel and ankle bone

Cuboid Syndrome: Subluxation of the cuboid bone causes pain through the outside of the foot and down to the toes, particularly when walking

You can find out all about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of these foot and ankle injuries using the link above.

Other Soft Tissue Injuries

Some foot and ankle injuries can damage the skin or nail on the foot. The most common of these is:

Tennis Toe aka Runners Toe and Subungual Hematoma. Find out about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

Tennis Toe

Tennis Toe aka Runners Toe is caused by the big toe repeatedly ramming into the front of a shoe.

The trauma causes bleeding and blood pools under the nail causing a throbbing pain and turning the nail blue/black. It can also affect the second toe.

Find out more about the causes, symptoms and treatment options in the Tennis Toe section.

What Next?

You can find out loads more about these common foot and ankle injuries by using the links above. With any injury, treatment should be started as soon as possible to reducing healing times and to reduce the risk of ongoing foot problems.

If none of these is sounding like your problem, visit the foot pain diagnosis section for help working out what is wrong.

Go to Foot Pain Guide

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