May 1, 2023

As the warm weather begins, people want to enjoy outside activities.   Walking, running, golfing, yard work/gardening and pickle ball are popular but often can lead to lower leg and foot pain.   Weaning (slowly increasing your participation) into these activities is important especially if you have been more sedentary during the winter.  Physical Therapists often see the seasonal trend in the presentation of patients to the clinic with leg and foot issues.  Here are some tips for you to avoid these issues.

Proper footwear is the key to tolerating extended standing activities.   Everyone has a certain amount of shock absorption and stability built into their foot and ankle.  Based upon your foot type, your shoes may need to provide the features you do not have naturally.   Walking and running shoes are built for either shock absorption, stability or a combination of the two.   Someone who needs stability but wears a shoe built for shock absorption may develop pain the more active they are.   Similarly, a person who needs shock absorption who wears a shoe with mainly stability features, will develop pain for other reasons.  A physical therapist can help look at your feet and advise you on the best type of shoe for your individual body type.

Prolonged barefoot activity or wearing unsupportive shoes such as sandals and flip flops can often result in plantar fasciitis.  The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the “ball of the foot” (metatarsal heads) to the bottom of the heel and helps provide arch support.   When stability or arch support is needed and not provided, this band becomes inflamed and can be very painful and eventually limit your activities.  It is often very difficult to walk first thing in the morning.  Pain may also be felt along the heel of the foot.

“Shin splints” is a general term describing pain in the front of the lower leg.   This often occurs with overuse activities and must be determined if it is from over-activity of the muscles or a stress fracture of the tibia bone.  Often people who are in need of more arch support develop these conditions since the lower leg muscles are trying to control the excessive foot and ankle motion and the front of the lower leg muscle are overactive and become inflamed and sore.

Achilles’ tendonitis is another frequently developed condition in the spring and summer.   People complain of pain along the tendon behind the ankle or at the back portion of the heel.   It is an overuse injury which often starts mildly and can progress to sharp burning pain.  Special attention needs to be addressed to the flexibility of the two main calf muscles the gastroc and the soleus.

The good news is that all of these conditions can be easily assessed and treated by a physical therapist.  Recommendations for the proper type of shoe, over the counter or custom orthotic, or possible need for a small heel lift to temporarily unload the Achille’s tendon can be made.  Treatments to reduce pain/inflammation, restore proper flexibility and strength to involved muscle groups and return to activity can be fast and effective.  Do not suffer needlessly thinking it will just go away and get it treated so that you can enjoy the rest of the good outdoor weather.

At Optimal Physical Therapy and Sports Performance, a licensed physical therapist can help assess your problem, establish a individualized treatment program and get you back to the activities you enjoy.   Do not let your nagging mild to moderately painful condition get to the level where you cannot participate this summer.   Call us today at 724-779-1300


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