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Ankle & Foot Injuries in Sports

Foot and ankle injuries are very common in all sports, affecting both amateur and elite athletes as well as the infrequent sportsperson and ‘weekend warriors’. In many cases these injuries are only minor and simply resting from activity for a few days and taking proper precautions such as icing, elevating and compressing the area is enough to alleviate the injury. However, in some cases, the injury is often significant enough to cause ongoing problems and further treatment is needed in addition to the standard ice, elevation, compression and rest. In these situations individuals are often required to take extended periods of rest from activity and exercise, especially weight bearing, high impact activities. These periods of rest can be anywhere from a few days or weeks to even a few months, depending on the type and severity of the injury, as well as the treatment modality being utilised. For those who cannot afford to take such prolonged rest and who need to keep their fitness at a certain level (i.e. elite athletes), resting for extended periods of time is not an option. Furthermore, even for those individuals not practicing sports at an elite level, extended periods of rest can be problematic and lead to feelings of depression and irritability. Thus, while rest is diffidently essential for healing to occur, there is no reason why some sort of physical activity cannot be undertaken safely and without hindering the healing process. When dealing with a serious foot or ankle injury for an extensive period of time, the types of exercises that can be done are often, if not always, limited. What’s more, the only suitable exercise options in these cases often require special equipment or facilities, which some people may not necessarily have access to. This article will discuss some important factors to consider when exercising with a foot or ankle injury and also the different possibilities in regard to exercise options for individuals suffering with acute and chronic foot and/or ankle injuries.

Foot Injuries & Training

If you are suffering from a foot injury, be it acute or chronic and mild or serious, there are some important things to be aware of and some important points to follow:

  • Do not do any exercise or activity involving the injured body part – this is obvious but needs to be stated.
  • If it hurts, don’t keep exercising! When you have an injury there is no such thing as ‘good pain’ during exercise. Even if you are doing an exercise that shouldn’t be affecting or working the injured area, if you feel any pain or discomfort, stop immediately! The last thing you want to do is injure yourself further or prevent the healing process from taking place which is going to increase recovery time.
  • Don’t over-exercise! Although you may be undertaking exercises that do not involve the injured area, it is still important to rest adequately. On a similar note, you may want to increase the amount of rest between sets in an exercise to make sure you are not pushing yourself too hard. This is especially important when using an exercise that may indirectly involve the injured body part in some way.
  • Follow the advice given to you by your doctor as it may not be suitable for you to be doing certain types of exercises or any at all for that matter
  • Listen to you body. As hard as it may be for some people, absolute rest may be needed for recovery to occur.
  • Lastly, but very importantly, make sure you are wearing appropriate, supportive footwear, especially if undertaking exercises that require you to be standing

Training with a Foot Injury

Depending on the type and severity of the foot/ankle injury and the treatment being utilised, in general, these are some of the forms of exercises that can be utilised safely:

  • Stationary bike
  • Recumbent bike
  • Rowing machine
  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Kayaking / Canoeing
  • Upper body weight training (in some cases may need to avoid exercises that require you to stand as this will result in increased weight being transferred through to your injured foot/ankle). Some examples of exercises you could do include seated dumbbell curls, seated dumbbell lateral raises, seated dumbbell shoulder and lying chest press
  • Resistance band exercises.
  • Modify your exercises – instead of doing an exercise standing, lie down or sit down.
  • Heavy bag (standing if you are able to or seated if not)
  • Shadow boxing whilst seated.

Exercises to Avoid with a Foot or Ankle Injury

  • Exercises that involve weight-bearing for extended periods of time
  • High impact exercises such as jogging / jumping
  • Exercises that require balance as you may end up causing another injury to yourself
  • Stair exercises as these will put increased stress on the injured foot/ankle during the single limb stance phase of the exercise

So while it may be more difficult, there is no reason why you can’t keep your fitness levels up while dealing with a foot or ankle injury. It is important however to seek medical advice from your doctor as they will be able to recommend what is best for your situation. Lastly, listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard otherwise you may find that you’re out of action for a lot longer than first anticipated.

About.com, Should you Exercise with an Injury?, viewed March 25th 2011, <http://exercise.about.com/cs/exercisehealth/a/injuries.htm>.
Get Fit Guy, How to Exercise with and Ankle or Foot Injury, viewed 27th March 2011, <http://getfitguy.quickanddirtytips.com/how-to-exercise-with-an-ankle-or-foot-injury.aspx>.
Live Strong 2010, The Best Cardio Exercise for a Foot Injury, viewed 1st April 2011, <http://www.livestrong.com/article/303861-the-best-cardio-exercise-for-a-foot-injury/>.
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