Foot and ankle problems can result from injuries; congenital defects and heredity; degenerative diseases; fungal, viral or bacterial infections; abnormal tissue growths; improper footwear; and slight mechanical changes. Here is a list of some common foot and ankle problems:
- Bunions: A bunion is a deformity of the big toe joint that results from bone misalignment or repositioning at the joint. Although bunions occur most frequently at the base of the big toe, they can also arise on the outside of the foot at the base of the small toe.
- Fractures: Bones are susceptible to two kinds of fractures: stress and general. Stress fractures are small fissures or cracks in the surface of the bone and usually occur in the forefoot, or the area from the mid-foot extending to the toes. General fractures travel into the bone beyond its surface and can be stable or displaced, as well as closed or open. Stress fractures can become general fractures if not properly treated.
- Hammertoe: Hammertoe occurs when the second, third, or fourth toe bends at the middle joint, often as a result of wearing ill-fitting shoes. Genetics, arthritis, and muscle imbalance can also cause hammertoe. With hammertoe, the toe bends downward, rather than pointing straight forward.
- Plantar fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, the fibrous tissue that runs along the arch of the foot to connect the heel bone and ball of the forefoot. Heel spurs are not the same as plantar fasciitis; however, the two are often associated. Since the plantar fascia is subjected to great amounts of impact and pressure while supporting the foot’s arch, it can become inflamed and irritated. In some cases, it begins to deteriorate.
- Heel spurs: Spurs are outgrowths of bone. In the feet, they most commonly occur in the heel. The spurs usually develop in areas subjected to constant pressure. Heel spurs, or bone spurs in the heel, occur on the bottom of the heel bone as a result of calcium deposits forming over time. They frequently accompany the condition plantar fasciitis.
- Ingrown toenails: Ingrown toenails, known as onychocryptosis, most commonly occur on the big toe and are caused by pressure that drives the edge of the nail into the surrounding skin. This results in pain, redness, inflammation, swelling, and sometimes, infection. Clipping the toenails too short or exercising poor foot hygiene can also lead to ingrown toenails. Runners and those with toe deformities can also be prone to ingrown toenails.
- Neuromas: Neuromas are benign growths of nerve tissue, or nerve tumors, that form when the nerves are irritated by surrounding tissue rubbing against them. Symptoms of a neuroma include intense pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, and/ or a burning sensation in the toes and forefoot area. Neuromas most frequently develop between the third and fourth toes.
- Sesamoiditis: In the foot, there are two sesamoids underneath the top of the foot and near the big toe that allow the big toe to move up and down freely. These help with push-off activities such as walking, running, and climbing. Since the sesamoids are exposed to excessive force and pressure during weight-bearing activities, sports, and exercises, they are often prone to injury and trauma, as well as stress from overuse or from standing on hard surfaces for prolonged periods. Sesamoids can fracture or become inflamed.
- Ankle Sprain: When the ankle bones twist or receive too much force, the ligaments surrounding the outside of the bones may suffer from over-stretching or tearing, resulting in a painful ankle sprain. There are different levels of severity when it comes to ankle sprains, and if the sprain is not properly diagnosed and treated, it can cause permanent, lasting ankle trouble.
- Shin splints: Shin splints, a common condition, happen when the muscles or tendons surrounding the leg bone become inflamed, irritated, and painful, which can result from overuse, a collapsing arch, stress fractures in the lower leg bones, or imbalance between opposite leg muscle groups. Shin splints can be prevented by properly stretching prior to and after exercise, sports, or activity. Corrective shoes or corrective orthotics can also be used to prevent shin splints.
It is important for a patient to seek medical care as soon as possible, as immediate, proper diagnoses, treatments, and care can prevent problems from worsening or resulting in permanent damage.