Exercise Injuries Below the Belt
Ankle and foot injuries
The lower leg is prone to many common injuries, including shin splints, calf strain, Achilles tendinitis, and sprains and fractures.
Ankle sprains are common, Doperak says, causing swelling, bruising, and pain, most often on the outside of the foot. Often, these sprains can be treated at home with rest, icing and elevating the ankle, and compression, she says. After a serious ankle sprain, a physical therapy program can help rehabilitate the ankle, as well as protect against more sprains, she says. “Work on strength and balance because that can be protective against a future injury.”
Doctors also commonly see stress fractures in the foot, small cracks in the bone when feet repeatedly hit the ground. These stress fractures stem from overuse and can happen in distance runners and basketball players, among others. “Anytime someone starts to get pain in their foot, especially with activity, and it doesn’t seem to resolve, it’s probably worthwhile to have someone look at it and get an x-ray,” Doperak says.
After any kind of ankle or foot injury, “If you can stand within a day or two and put all your weight on your injured ankle or foot, it’s not likely that it’s that badly injured,” Carpenter says. But if you’re still struggling to bear weight on your leg after an ankle or foot injury, see a doctor, he says.
Tips for reducing lower body injuries
The legs are athletic workhorses, prone to injuries from overuse and accidents. The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Sports Medicine offers the following advice to help protect the hips, knees, ankles, and feet during sports and exercise:
- Wear proper footwear for an activity, such as running shoes for running and basketball shoes for basketball.
- If you have flat feet or high arches, wear shoe inserts to support your feet. You may need to wear the inserts for brief periods of time at first, because it may take a couple of weeks to become accustomed to wearing them.
- Tape or brace your ankles for more stability.
- Before you exercise, always warm up and carefully stretch the muscles needed for certain exercises or sports. Be sure your muscles are warm before you stretch, because cold muscles are more prone to injury, according to some studies.
- Start training slowly and increase the intensity of your workouts gradually; don’t take part in activities above your skill level.
- Avoid running on uneven surfaces or trail running.