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Spring FeetSpring Forecast: A Chance of Fungus

The numbers are in, and we have your spring forecast for 2017! It’ll be hot and humid, with lots of rain and a chance of fungus!

Surprised? Don’t be. As temperatures and humidity levels increase, you may find yourself more and more likely to come into contact with dermatophytes, a particular group of fungi that love dark and humid spaces. These fungi also love keratin, a material plentiful in hair, skin, and nails, and if they make their way to your feet they could cause athlete’s foot, fungal toenails, or both.

Trust us: you do not want either of these conditions. Neither of them are likely to “make you sick” or impair your medical health. However, both are deeply distressing and unpleasant. Athlete’s foot creates a rash that is scaly, icky, itchy, and sometimes even smelly. Fungal toenails are even worse—infected nails often turn yellowish or grayish, and become thickened, ragged, and deformed. While athlete’s foot usually can be eliminated with about a month’s worth of topical medications, fungal nails are much more difficult to treat and will probably require an appointment with our office.

If you want to protect yourself this spring, make sure you keep your feet clean and dry, and avoid exposing them to surfaces highly likely to be infected. We recommend:

  • Washing and drying feet thoroughly at least once per day.
  • Changing socks at least daily, or more frequently if they get wet.
  • Rotating between pairs of shoes on a daily basis so they can dry out between uses.
  • Using antifungal powders or sprays in shoes.
  • Avoid going barefoot in public or shared spaces. In particular, this includes showers, gymnasiums, pool decks, and locker rooms. Always bring sandals or shower shoes.

If you do pick up a case of fungal nails this spring, or you find that your over-the-counter solutions for athlete’s foot aren’t working, please make an appointment with Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias. Don’t live with these uncomfortable, embarrassing conditions any longer than you have to! For a consultation and treatment solutions, please fill out our online contact form or call (800) 456-8637.

The Trouble with Tight Achilles Tendons

Your body contains around 4,000 tendons—give or take—but none of them can match the Achilles in either thickness or strength. Also known as the “heel cord,” the Achilles attaches the powerful, explosive calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the foot, inserting into the top of the heel bone.

AchillesThe Achilles, along with the calf muscles attached to it, are responsible for a motion called plantar flexion—in other words, extending your foot at the ankle so that the toes point downward, away from the rest of your foot. Since this is the force that propels you forward when you walk and run, a healthy Achilles is critical for efficient and pain-free locomotion.

A tight Achilles, however, produces many problems. Perhaps most notably, a tight tendon is far more vulnerable to injuries. If stretched too far, an Achilles can tear or even fully rupture, meaning instant pain, significant reduction in ability to walk, and a lengthy recovery (often requiring surgery). Even if it doesn’t rupture, you can still develop acute or chronic inflammation or tendinitis.

Another problem is heel pain. The Achilles tendon doesn’t operate in isolation—it is part of a “chain” that links the muscles of the calf to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the foot, including the plantar fascia. A tight Achilles pulls on the heel bone from above, while the plantar fascia pulls on the heel from the arch. It’s a real no-win situation for your heel!

If Achilles pain is causing you trouble, please know that help is available. Our team of foot and ankle specialists treats Achilles tendon injuries regularly with a wide range of conservative treatment options, as well as surgery to repair even the most severe ruptures. We’ll help you loosen the tightness, reduce your pain, and repair any damage swiftly and completely. To call about scheduling an appointment at one of our many convenient locations, please dial (800) 456-8637 today.

Bunionettes: Bunions on Your Baby Toes

BunionettesMost people are familiar with bunions—those big, knobby, bony, protruding bumps that can develop on the inside of some feet at the base of the big toe. Did you know, however, that the same thing can happen to the little toe, on the opposite side of the foot? A bunion on the fifth toe is called a bunionette, and don’t let their relatively small size fool you. They can be just as painful and frustrating to deal with as their larger cousins!

Bunionettes may also be called tailor’s bunions for historical reasons—centuries ago, they were a common condition among professional tailors, who would sit cross-legged with the outside of their feet against the ground. Today, you’re more likely to develop one over time from a fundamental defect in the way your feet are structured, or perhaps from wearing tight shoes that pinch your pinky toe.

As with bunions, bunionettes are a progressive condition. That ugly bump isn’t going away anytime soon, so you have two basic options. The first, and the one we prefer to thoroughly explore initially, is conservative management. No, these techniques won’t make the bump go away, but if the bunionette is still relatively minor, they usually will take the pain away and allow you to function normally without discomfort or restriction. Making sure you have wide enough shoes to accommodate your toes, using a little padding to defend against friction, and getting a good pair of orthotics to correct or accommodate any structural flaws in your feet that could be contributing to your pain is, more often than not, more than sufficient.

Unfortunately, a severe bunionette might not be controllable through conservative treatment alone, and that’s when we look at the second option: surgery. Depending on the condition of the bones and the joint, this could be as simple as removing some of the excess skin and swollen tissues. In other cases, bones will have to be cut and repositioned in a procedure known as an osteotomy. Although we see surgery as a last resort, the good news is that bunionette surgery is, on average, highly successful and produces long-lasting pain relief for the great majority of our patients.

If a little bunionette is causing you big problems, don’t ignore the pain. Call the Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias at (800) 456-8637 and schedule an appointment at one of our seven convenient locations.

Growing Up Can Be Hard on the Heels

Growing up hard on heelsChildhood is often the most active time of life. While a typical American adult might take an average of around 5,000 steps per day, adolescents can easily double or triple that figure, especially if they enjoy playing outside or are active in one or more sports.

All that activity, of course, is great for keeping kids healthy, fit, and strong, and for building good habits for a lifetime. However, it also can put a lot of stress on sensitive, still-growing bones and tissues, producing discomfort and pain. The most common heel pain condition among adolescents is called Sever’s disease (also known as calcaneal apophysitis), and it often arises when an active lifestyle clashes with anatomy that hasn’t quite matured yet.

When kids are still growing, the ends of their long bones feature an exposed section of softer tissue called an epiphyseal plate, or “growth plate.” True to their name, growth plates are responsible for forming new bone tissue as your child grows up.

There is one such plate located at the back of the heel bone on each foot, and because of its position it is fairly vulnerable to injuries and damage. Because it is softer than normal bone, the heel growth plate is more susceptible to the stresses of repetitive impacts from running and jumping.

At the same time, during a growth spurt leg bones may get longer very quickly while softer tissues struggle to “catch up.” This can leave an adolescent with very tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles that tug uncomfortably on the heel bone, increasing the discomfort.

Clearly, growing up can be hard on the heels! However, there is some good news. Most cases of childhood heel pain resolve within a few days to weeks using only conservative treatment remedies, such as rest, stretching, medications, orthotics, or if absolutely necessary a brief period of immobilization. This does mean your child will have to take a spot on the sidelines for a short time, but they may still be able to enjoy alternative activities while they recover—swimming, for example, or going for bike rides. The sooner you take your child in for treatment, the quicker the recovery period will be, and the sooner they can go back to doing what they love.

Growing up can be hard on the heels. Don’t make it harder than it has to be for your child! Schedule an appointment at Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias. Call one of our seven locations at (800) 456-8637 today.

Try Stretching to Help with Heel Pain

Stretching for heel painHeel pain is extremely common. Some estimates suggest that about half of all Americans struggle with it at one point or another. We’re not talking about minor aches and pains here, either, which we all experience to some extent. We’re talking about pain strong enough to stop you in your tracks, keeping you from enjoying your activities for hours, days, or even weeks at a time.

Fortunately, most successful heel pain treatments tend to be conservative in nature. In fact, you may find that a series of regular stretches can help relieve the tension in your heels and allow you to relieve some pain.

For example, tight calf muscles tend to increase or aggravate heel pain conditions like plantar fasciitis. Your calf, Achilles tendon, and plantar fascia are connected to one another, and tugging at one end can cause pain at the other. Calf stretches are therefore often very effective at managing and preventing heel pain.

There are also a number of stretches you can try to relax or massage the plantar fascia more directly. For example:

  • From a seated position on a chair, cross one leg over the opposite knee, then grab the biggest toe and pull it gently toward yourself.
  • Sitting either in a chair or on the ground, wrap a towel or resistance band around the bottom of your foot and pull back with your hands as you push forward with your foot.
  • From a chair, roll your foot over a round object. This could be a frozen water bottle, foam roller, tennis ball, golf ball, etc.

You may well find that daily stretching—both when you have pain and when you don’t—will slowly help loosen tight tissues, strengthen your supporting muscles, increase your range of motion, and ultimately help your body relieve and resist heel pain.

However, any heel pain that disrupts your daily life should be addressed by a specialist. Heel pain can have a complex set of causes. A podiatrist will help you evaluate what those causes are and provide a customized treatment plan as an effective remedy. To schedule your appointment with Foot & Ankle Clinic of the Virginias, give us a call today at (800) 456-8637. 

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