Preventing Foot and Ankle Sports Injuries in Youngsters

Foot and ankle orthopedic surgeons deal with a great many sports injuries, too many of them in children and teenagers. It is widely known that keeping our youngsters active is important to maintaining their physical and emotional health, not to mention combating the obesity epidemic. Nonetheless, too much sports activity of the wrong type can result in serious sports injuries that require foot and/or ankle surgery. Some of these injuries may even result in lasting damage. That’s why this is a good time to examine what we can do to prevent some of the injuries to young feet and ankles.

Which sports can result in foot and ankle injuries?

Because our feet absorb the force of nearly three times our body weight when we run, any sports that involve running can put your child at risk for damage to the feet or ankles. Such sports include basketball, football, running and soccer. Although you can certainly injure a foot or ankle playing tennis or baseball, high-impact sports tend to put more pressure on the lower extremities. Activities like gymnastics and dancing that involve jumping may also put added strain on the feet and ankles.

This is especially unfortunate because these body parts, which are designed to facilitate complex motions, are complicated structures composed of multiple bones in addition to soft tissue and ligaments. It’s important to be aware that serious injuries do not only occur suddenly during a hard fall or collision; they can be the result of repetitive motions that cause wear and tear over time. Joints are particularly prone to repetitive stress injuries that may necessitate surgical intervention.

Things That Make Feet and Ankle Injuries More Likely

Below are three factors that may contribute to sports injuries of the feet and ankles:

Congenital Weakness

If your child has congenitally weak ankles, flat feet or exceptionally high arches, he should be examined by a competent foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon at an early age. The specialist will evaluate the situation and make recommendations for any corrective measures deemed necessary. 

It may be that certain exercises will be helpful or that your child should be wearing orthotics tailored to his or her particular needs. Taking such simple steps may prevent strain on weak areas of the feet or ankles. It is also possible that your child may require surgery to prevent painful, hard to repair injuries in the future.

Inadequate Preparation for Sports Activity

Other reasons for foot and ankle injuries may be that your child is not doing enough warm-up exercises before engaging in sports activities, or that she is increasing the amount and intensity of sports activities too quickly, not allowing her muscles to adjust and strengthen properly. Either of these actions may make your child more susceptible to injury on the field, floor or court.  

Single-Sport Athletic Participation

According to a study of 2,000 young athletes (ages 12 to 18) published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2017, a correlation has been made between children who participate in only one sport and a higher incidence of sports injuries. Labeled “early professionalization,” the practice of participating intensely in only one sport may put your child at a heightened risk of injury.

Some Common Sports Injuries of Children’s Feet and Ankles

Children who play sports regularly frequently incur foot and ankle injuries during participation or in its aftermath. Common injuries of this kind include:

  • Tendonitis
  • Shin Splints
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Fractures of the ankle or small bones of the foot
  • Stress fractures
  • Sprains
  • Ligament damage

It should be noted that any bone injury near a joint may injure the growth plate in a child. This is a circumstance that needs to be carefully evaluated by a professional to make certain that the child’s growth continues normally.

If your child has been seriously injured apparently because of participation in one particular sport, if she has repeatedly received similar injuries (even if not serious ones), or if she complains of ongoing ankle or foot pain, it is essential that you consult with a well-credentialed foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon to have the case professionally evaluated.