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Is Your Heel Pain Achilles Tendinitis … or Something Else? 

Discovering causes of heel painAchilles tendinitis is a common source of pain and misery in the heels and ankles, especially among active adults. Repetitive, high-stress activities (think running, tennis, or basketball) can cause the tendon fibers to swell, tear, or even degenerate. Older adults are particularly at risk, since at this time tendons are generally becoming weaker and less flexible with age.

But let’s hold up for a second. How can you be sure that your heel pain is Achilles tendinitis? The truth is that many heel pain conditions feature very similar symptoms, and the causes can even overlap. If you don’t know what the problem is—or you try to self-diagnose and get it wrong—you might not know the best way to treat it.

Some of the telltale signs of Achilles tendinitis include:

  • Pain located along the back of the leg, typically just above the back of the heel. This is where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone, and is thinnest and weakest here.
  • Stiffness and tenderness along the Achilles tendon, particularly in the early morning.
  • Pain and swelling that worsens throughout the day, particularly after a period of activity.
  • A lump may form on the tendon at the back of the leg.

The location of the pain is the easiest way to distinguish Achilles tendinitis from its primary competition for “most popular source of heel pain,” plantar fasciitis. In that condition, pain is located principally on the underside of the foot, typically underneath the heel or just in front of it.

There are other potential causes of your heel pain, too. Achilles bursitis, a swelling of a fluid-filled sac called a bursa, often occurs alongside Achilles tendinitis and may be almost impossible to distinguish from it unless inspected by a professional. Other possibilities include compressed nerves (such as tarsal tunnel syndrome), stress fractures, or even arthritis.

Even when symptoms can seem so similar, the most appropriate treatment remedy can vary significantly based on precisely what, where, and how. That’s why, if symptoms persist longer than a couple of days, you should always make an appointment with the Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias. We’ll help you determine the best course of action, whether that includes new shoes, custom orthotics, stretches, surgery, or other potential solutions.

To see us in any of our convenient locations—Blacksburg and Bluefield in Virginia, or Charleston, Beckley, Montgomery, Oceana, or Princeton in West Virginia—give us a call at (800) 456-8637.

A Runner's Guide to Preventing Foot and Ankle Injuries

Running ShoesAs the temperatures start to heat up this summer, the sidewalks, trails, and pathways are filling up with runners going out for their morning or evening jog. We hope you’re one of them! We probably don’t have to tell you how good running is for your mind and body, not to mention your feet.

That said, we also probably don’t have to tell you that running without proper preparation is a recipe for a foot injury, too. Whether you’re already an avid runner, or you’re just getting started (or restarted), this basic guide can help you minimize your risk of both painful accidents and chronic pain.

  • Stretch every day, including before and after a run. Take your time and make sure to warm up for about 10 minutes.
  • At least a couple of times per week, perform strengthening exercises for your feet, ankles, and legs. This helps them better stabilize and protect your bones and joints during your run.
  • Get a decent pair of running shoes. No, you don’t have to spend $300. But you also can’t expect your old pair of tennis shoes to do the job, either. Find a nice pair of dedicated running shoes that are a good match for your foot shape and gait style. The staff at a specialty running store can usually provide good advice here, as can we.
  • Replace your running shoes when they wear out. A good rule of thumb is 300-500 miles, but that number varies depending on factors such as your weight, your form, and the terrain.
  • Pace yourself. One of the best ways to get hurt is to go too far, too fast, too soon and ignore all the painful warning signs along the way. Start slow—perhaps even with just walking. Build up your intensity gradually, increasing duration and intensity by only about 10% per week.
  • Mix up your activities. Running is great, but if it’s you’re only exercise you can put a lot of stress on your feet. Make sure you take appropriate rest days and spend some time doing less impact-heavy aerobic exercises.

May the roads and trails be kind to you this summer! Should foot pain or injury befall you, however, make an appointment with Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias. We have seven convenient locations to serve you—just call (800) 456-8637.

What to Do if You Sprain Your Ankle

Ankle SprainAnkle sprains are the most common lower limb injury—and sports injury of any type—in America. As a matter of fact, as many as 20% of all sports-related injuries are ankle sprains. Despite this, many people aren’t sure about the best way to care for a sprain, and that can mean longer healing times, chronic pain, or even persistent instability and wobbliness long after the original accident.

If you sprain your ankle, it’s important to begin first aid procedures right away. Don’t try to hobble your way through the end of the game first! Offload immediately, as any further walking or bearing weight could worsen the ligament tear. Implement the RICE protocol:

  • Rest. You’re already doing this by offloading the weight.
  • Ice. Twenty minutes of icing at a time, up to 4 times per day, minimizes pain and swelling.
  • Compression. Various dressings, bandages, or wraps apply light pressure to improve circulation and support the weakened joint.
  • Elevation. Keep your feet propped up when you sit or sleep to encourage good blood flow.

We generally recommend that you seek professional help for any pain or swelling in your ankle that might be a sprain. Simply put, the risk of complications from a sprain that doesn’t heal properly is too high. Very mild sprains may well heal on their own just with RICE therapy, but more serious pain (or pain that doesn’t improve within 48 hours) should be evaluated by our podiatry team as soon as possible.

Depending on the severity of the sprain, additional treatments may include the likes of:

  • Crutches that allow you to walk without putting weight on the ankle
  • A splint, brace, walking boot, or short cast to keep the ankle stable and immobilized during healing.
  • Surgery to repair a torn tendon (only necessary in the most severe cases).
  • Physical therapy exercises to rehabilitate the sprain during and after the healing process.

The experts at Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias work hard every day to help patients overcome their injuries. To schedule an appointment at any of our convenient locations, please call (800) 456-8637.

Are the Signs of Fungus Afoot?

Sandal weatherFeet are particularly vulnerable to fungal infections, for lots of reasons. Here are just a few: We stick them in sweaty shoes and socks all day. They may not get as much attention from the soap as other parts of your body when you take a shower. If you go barefoot in public, you might be putting them in harm’s way. And because feet don’t always get the same level of circulation, your body might not be able to fight fungal infections as effectively.

The tricky thing about fungal infections like athlete’s foot and fungal toenails is that, the longer you let them go on, the more difficult they become to eradicate. Your skin and nails provide a hearty banquet of the nutrients they need, and they won’t leave without a fight. Worse, since they’re all caused by the same kinds of fungi, an infection can jump from toe to toe, to skin (as athlete’s foot), to other parts of the body (like hands, scalp, or back), to family members.

So, don’t ignore your feet! If you keep an eye out for the signs of a fungal infection, you’ll have a better chance of catching it early and stopping it quickly.

The telltale sign of athlete’s foot is a scaly, itchy, red rash. Although the exact symptoms you experience and the order in which the arrive can vary, most cases begin between the toes. The itchy sensation also tends to be worst in the first few moments right after you remove your socks and shoes. If you begin to notice any of these signs, avoid touching or picking at the rash and begin treatment with an over-the-counter antifungal cream or spray right away.

Fungal toenail infections are even harder to get rid of, so vigilance here is particularly important. The fungus may begin as a simple whitish or yellowish spot under the tip of your nail. It won’t stay that way, though—as fungal nail progress, the area of discoloration spread. Eventually, the nail itself may become thickened, distorted, ragged, or even brittle and crumbly.

If the signs of a fungus are afoot, before it gets bad, get yourself to Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias. Our team can help you get control of your condition and avoid the frustration and embarrassment an infection may cause. To set up your appointment, give us a call at (800) 456-8637.

Itchiness and unsightly rashes from athlete's footDon't Be Rash: Ways to Avoid Athlete's Foot

Trust us: athlete’s foot is one condition you definitely want to avoid. If you’ve ever had it, you know what we mean.

Even a relatively mild case can be extremely aggravating, and even embarrassing. A dry, scaly, reddish rash develops, often along the tops of feet and between the toes. Your feet itch all day, but especially after you take your socks and shoes off when you get home. Your feet look gross, and you feel gross—and that’s just the basic case. More serious instances of athlete’s foot can cause blisters and open sores, and may spread to other areas of your body (including your toenails, groin, scalp, and more).

Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus that that feasts on the keratin in your skin, and lies in wait in dark, dank environments, ready to spread by contact. If you want to reduce your risk of picking up an infection this summer, be smart about your activities and hygiene:

  • Wash your feet each day.
  • Dry thoroughly after washing, especially between toes.
  • Change your socks regularly, especially if you sweat a lot. This may mean more than once per day in some cases.
  • Wear shoes made from breathable fabrics.
  • Rotate between multiple pairs of shoes, switching pairs each day. This allows shoes to dry out before you use them again.
  • If you have a history of athlete’s foot, use antifungal sprays or powder inside shoes or on feet regularly.
  • If safe for you to do so (e.g., you don’t have diabetes or other concerns requiring shoes to be worn at all times), go shoeless or even barefoot at home to allow your feet to air out.
  • Don’t go barefoot in public, especially shared facilities such as pool decks and showers. A pair of shower shoes or flip flops is a must.
  • Don’t share towels, socks, or shoes with anyone else—especially if they have an existing fungal infection.

If you do get athlete’s foot, our recommendation is that you pick up an over-the-counter antifungal spray or cream and follow the treatment course on the box or tube. In most cases, this will solve the problem. However, sometimes the over-the-counter remedy isn’t strong enough and you need extra help.

If your situation is especially painful or doesn’t improve after a few weeks of treatment, give the Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias a call at (800) 456-8637. We can offer both a professional evaluation and stronger remedies to help eliminate your fungal infection for good.

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