March Articles 2015

What are Achilles Tendon Injuries

The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the human body. Its purpose is to connect the lower leg muscles and calf to the heel of the foot. This tendon is responsible for facilitating all types of movement, like walking and running. Since this tendon provides an enormous amount of mobility to an individual, any injuries inflicted to this tissue should be immediately brought up with a physician to prevent further damage.

The most common injuries that can trouble the Achilles tendon are tendon ruptures and Achilles tendinitis. Achilles tendinitis is the milder of the two injuries and can be recognized by the following symptoms: inflammation, dull to severe pain, an increased flow of blood to the tendon, thickening of the tendon, and slower movement time. Tendinitis can be treated via several methods and is often diagnosed by an MRI.

An Achilles tendon rupture is trickier to heal, and is by far the most painful injury. It is caused by the tendon ripping or completely snapping. The results are immediate and absolutely devastating, and will render the patient immobile. If a rupture or tear occurs, operative and non-operative methods are available. Once the treatment begins, depending on the severity of the injury, recovery time for these types of issues can take up to a year.

Simple preventative measures can be taken as a means to avoid both injuries. Prior to any movement, taking a few minutes to stretch out the tendon is a great way to stimulate the tissue. Calf raises, squats, leg curls, leg extensions, leg raises, lunges, and leg presses are all suggested ways to help strengthen the lower legs and promote Achilles tendon health.

Many problems arise among athletes and people who overexert themselves while exercising or who do not properly warm up before beginning an activity. Proper, comfortable shoes that fit correctly can also decrease tendon injuries. Some professionals also suggest that when exercising, you should make sure that the floor you are on is cushioned or has a mat, as this will relieve pressure on the heels. As always, a healthy diet will also increase tendon health.

It is very important to seek out a podiatrist if you believe you have an injury in the Achilles region, because further damage could result in severe complications that would make being mobile difficult, if not impossible.

Foot Health: The 4 Differences between Walking and Running Shoes

Both running and walking are great exercises, but should a person wear the same shoes for running and for walking? The answer is no, because there is a difference between the way that a person’s feet hit the ground when they are walking and when they are running. Therefore, the shoes for each activity are designed totally different. Before you begin any exercise program it is always recommended that you speak with your doctor.

Walking is a low impact exercise that is often recommended by doctors to their patients. Walking is the simplest exercise there is, but it still requires some degree of preparation. If you think about walking and how your feet strike the ground as you walk along, you will notice that your heel hits the ground first and then your foot continues to roll forward until your next step begins. Because of this rolling motion, walking shoes are designed to be more flexible than running shoes. The flexibility helps the walker to push off with each step taken.

Another thing about walking shoes is that your heel hits the ground first, therefore it absorbs most of the shock. This is why walking shoes need to have a beveled or angled heel. The angle of the heel helps to absorb some of the shock instead of putting all of the pressure on the ankles. This is especially important for speed walkers as their feet will hit the ground twice as often as the normal walker.

When people decide to run as a hobby or for their health, they must first realize that running is a high impact exercise that if not done with the proper equipment, could cause damage to their feet and legs. Running shoes are designed to be more light weight and to have thicker soles. The thicker soles act as shock absorbers for the rest of the body. For this reason alone it is never recommended that a person wear walking shoe to run in. However, it's fine if you want to walk in running shoes. Walking shoes most often do not have the proper arch support that runners do.

One very important thing to remember is that a proper fit can make or break a runner or a walker. If a runner or walker’s shoes are too big, their feet will slide back and forth inside the shoe and cause blisters. What ever your sport, running or walking, the right equipment can make all of the difference in the world.


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.

Bunions

The term bunion refers to an enlargement of the base joint of the toe, the connection to the foot. This enlargement may be formed of swollen tissue or a bony growth, and is caused by the shifting of the bones in the big toe inward, toward the other toes of the foot. The area around the base of the big toe may become inflamed, red, and painful.

Genetic factors are important in the formation of bunions – people who get bunions are usually genetically predisposed to this bone displacement, and may cause its onset by wearing improperly fitting shoes, or by running or walking in a way that causes stress to the feet. Another common cause for bunions is wearing high heeled shoes. The weight of the body in these shoes pushes the toes into an unnatural position, possibly causing bone displacement.

A podiatrist who specializes in foot structure and bio-mechanics will be able to quickly diagnose bunions. Bunions must be distinguished from gout or arthritic conditions, so blood tests may be necessary. The podiatrist may order a radiological exam to provide an image of the bone structure. If the x-ray demonstrates an enlargement of the joint near the base of the toe and a shifting toward the smaller toes, this is indicative of a bunion.

Wearing wider shoes can remove the pressure on the bunion and reduce pain. High heeled shoes should be eliminated for a period of time as this type of shoe generally pushes the big toe outward toward the smaller toes. This may be enough to eliminate the pain associated with bunions; however, if pain persists, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed. Severe pain may require an injection of steroids near the bunion. Orthotics for shoes may be prescribed which, by altering the pressure on the foot, can be helpful in reducing pain. These do not correct the problem, but by eliminating the pain, they can provide relief.

For cases that do not respond to these methods of treatment, surgery can be done to reposition the toe. A surgeon may do this by taking out a section of bone, or may rearrange the ligaments and tendons in the toe to help keep it properly aligned. It may be necessary even after surgery to wear more comfortable shoes that do not put undue pressure on the toe as the big toe can easily move back to its orientation toward the smaller toes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Feet

Although rheumatoid arthritis actually attacks multiple bones and joints throughout the entire body, ninety percent of people who actually develop this condition usually do so in the foot or ankle area. Those who develop this kind of arthritis in the feet usually develop symptoms around the toes and forefeet first, before anywhere else. Rheumatoid arthritis appears to have a genetic component. If it runs in the family, then you will be more likely to develop it as well.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s own immune system attacks the lining of the membranes surrounding the joints. This causes inflammation of the membrane lining, and the gradual destruction of the joint’s cartilage and even bone.

Some of the most common symptoms that are associated with RA include pain and swelling of the feet. Stiffness in the feet is also another common symptom that people experience. Those who have RA in the feet usually feel the pain in the ball or sole of their feet. This can get to be very painful at times. A person's joints can even shift and become deformed after a period of time.

In order to properly diagnose RA in the feet it is usually necessary for a doctor or podiatrist to evaluate the area. Your doctor will also question you about your medical history, occupation, etc., to determine whether anything in your lifestyle may have triggered the condition. There are a number of tests that may be performed to help diagnose RA such as a rheumatoid factor test, although there is no one single test that will tell you for sure if you have RA. There are different X-rays that can be taken as well to determine if a person has RA in their feet.

There is a range of treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment of RA is usually a lifelong process that includes a variety of methods of treatment and therapy. Your doctor can prescribe special shoes that should help with arch support as well as heel support. A physical therapist can help those with this condition learn exercises which will keep their joints flexible. Surgery may be needed to correct some of the issues with the feet, such as bunions, and hammertoes. Fusion is usually the most successful surgical option for rheumatoid arthritis. However, people need to keep in mind that there are some risks associated with these surgeries.