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When It Comes to Feet, Cars 'Auto' Be Redesigned

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"Imagine taking your fist and hitting against the wall. That's what you are doing essentially," he says.

"Once they have a severe ankle fracture, they usually have pain for quite a long time," Singh tells WebMD. "If the cartilage is damaged, they will develop arthritis, but if it's a minor fracture, then they usually do pretty well."

Cary M. Golub, DPM, a podiatrist in private practice in Long Beach, N.Y., agrees with Singh. "Injury to the foot is caused when you try to brace yourself by pressing your foot into the brake as impact occurs, " he says. "It can occur to a passenger when their foot compresses against the floor as they brace themselves in an accident."

In the new study, foot and ankle injuries among drivers and front seat passengers were similar. Richter writes, "the pedals, steering wheel, or asymmetric design of the dashboard do not influence the injury incidence, mechanism, or severity." Rather the abrupt change in velocity and "the extent of foot compartment [damage] correlated with the [extent of injury]."

"These injuries are sudden and painful and can result in dislocation between two parts of the foot and may need surgery," Golub says.

"Ankle fractures are very common because as you are bracing yourself, the retrograde force of the foot against the pedal or brake causes impact at the ankle joints," he says.

But "these are often unconscious motions and may be necessary evils just as seat belts can cause burns around the chest strap but are necessary to prevent further trauma."

According to Ronald D. Jensen, DPM, a podiatrist practicing in Modesto, Calif., treatment depends on the severity of the injury. "The simplest form of ligament damage may require an ankle brace and crutches depending on the damage. If a fracture occurs, we may need to use pins to stabilize the bones followed by a cast. However, if bone is exposed, it's a medical emergency that requires surgery," he says.

Often injuries to the foot or ankle get overlooked after an accident, he adds.

"They get overlooked because other injuries are more serious," Jensen tells WebMD. But "you shouldn't accept your foot being sore as a result of an accident and not have it evaluated. Follow-up when symptoms become apparent."

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