Sports podiatry is a specialised area of podiatry that treats and manages a range of conditions typically related to sporting activities. Sports podiatrists help treat and manage injuries to the lower limbs including the foot, ankle, knees and legs. Hip and lower back pain is sometimes treated by a sports podiatrist if the cause of the problem relates to the lower limbs.
Working with a sports podiatrist to treat and manage your injury really is a partnership where you rely on diagnosis, advice and treatment from your podiatrist while you commit to implementing the treatment plan and actually following the advice given.
Over the years we have learned the following lessons while working in the field of sports podiatry. We have shared them with you here to help you avoid making some common mistakes around sporting injuries.
Acting quickly when you have a sporting injury will ensure your recovery time is shortened. While this might seem fairly obvious, many athletes make the mistake of ignoring small irritating aches and pains, often attributing them to training aches and pains or thinking they will resolve with time. While this can be true, any pain or discomfort that persists for more than a week needs to be addressed immediately. Try to take an honest look at the situation and put your sporting goals to one side for a moment. Ask yourself: are you training too heavily, have you rapidly increased your training load or did you push through a small injury and not allow time for recovery? If you are asking yourself these questions and are struggling with pain or discomfort it is probably time to see a professional. If the problem area is in your lower limbs it is highly likely a sports podiatrist can help.
Proper assessment and diagnosis by a sports podiatrist are essential to your recovery and ongoing performance. Assessment is comprehensive and takes into account the type of sporting activity you do, your training load and schedule, your training environment, biomechanics, video gait analysis, footwear and any previous injuries.
A sports podiatrist may recommend X-rays or scans to rule out fractures or other skeletal causes of your pain. Typically, sports podiatrists treat athletes with heel pain, ball of the foot pain, knee pain and associated hip and back pain. It is important to determine if the cause of the problem is muscular or skeletal when formulating a treatment plan.
One thing we all know is most athletes are very competitive and performance-driven. Even recreational athletes can become a little addicted to their sport or activity due to the enjoyment and positive health benefits it provides. Sports podiatrists understand this drive and aim to find the balance between recovery and performance when formulating a treatment plan. Often treatment plans involve reducing the load on affected areas. This may mean adjusting the way you train or substituting a training activity during the recovery phase. For example, hydrotherapy and exercises like water walking or running can help you maintain your condition while reducing load.
Sometimes a sports podiatrist may recommend rest or taking a break from training. No athlete wants to hear this and a sports podiatrist will not recommend it unless it is truly warranted. It is important to understand that complete rest allows the muscles and ligaments to fully heal. If six weeks rest is recommended it is important to take the full six weeks to recover. It may be tempting to return to training after 3-4 weeks as you will be feeling a lot better and most likely pain-free. However, returning to training prematurely and increasing the load too quickly can cause reversion and the need to start the healing process again. Talk to your sports podiatrist about your goals. Where possible your sports podiatrist will work with you to still achieve them and can even provide a letter to explain the plan to your coach.
5. Consider changing your footwear
Quite often we find athletes wearing the incorrect footwear for the activity they are doing. Sometimes this is a fashion choice and other times it is just through lack of education. Your sports podiatrist will be able to educate you around the best type of footwear for your sport and provide you with features to look for when purchasing shoes eg relating to flexibility, last* and support. Sports podiatrists are happy to physically inspect footwear to check if suitable for your foot. Most stores will allow you to return and exchange shoes if you explain you want to get them checked by your foot doctor.
You may need to purchase more than one set of footwear. For example, instead of wearing rubber thongs or flip flops on your feet in summer, you may need to choose a supportive sandal or thong with built-in arch support. Your sports podiatrist can advise you further on what to look for.
*A shoe last is the form on which a shoe is constructed. The shape of the last determines the shape of the shoe that is made on that last. The shoe last determines the toe shape and heel height as well as the curvature of the shoe.
Not everyone needs orthotics but they can be very effective to treat, manage and prevent sporting injuries related to faulty foot biomechanics. Orthotics are customised devices that sit underneath the foot and inside the shoe to correct the way in which the foot moves. There are many different types of orthotics available and this is because people have different needs depending on their shoes, activity levels, injuries, pain and foot type.
Orthotics may be cast from a mould or they may be designed according to a prescription for your needs. Suncoast Podiatry specialises in sports orthotics and offers both custom and prescription orthotics. If your pain originates from a biomechanical foot problem, it is well worth using orthotics to reduce your pain and help you optimise your performance.
Treatment by a podiatrist is not simply set and forget. It is important to realise that while your symptoms may have gone, they can reappear as your body changes and grows. This means it is important to review your progress regularly to prevent symptoms from re-emerging. Your podiatrist will recommend a management plan for you. Following the plan has been shown to reduce your downtime from sporting injuries.
Your sports podiatrist is an important part of your team and the lessons they have learned combined with their experience can be of great benefit to you to recover from injury or to prevent injury in the future.
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