How Podiatrists Can Treat Two Chronic Foot Injuries Common In Gymnasts

Posted on: 27 July 2016


Whether you're a professional gymnast or a casual amateur, practising gymnastics can be a great way to stay in shape while greatly increasing your strength and agility. However, the varied and high-impact nature of gymnastics can take its toll on your body over time, and the feet of gymnasts can be particularly prone to accidents and injuries, even when all proper precautions are taken. Luckily, podiatrists and other foot health professionals are well-versed in the various aches and pains that can be caused by gymnastics, and offer a range of treatments to help you get back on the horse (figuratively and literally) more quickly.

Plantar fasciitis

The plantar fascia is a strong but thin band of connective tissue near the sole of your foot, running from the toes all the way to the back of the heel. In this position it provides strength and control to the arches of the feet, and helps you control your feet while walking, running and jumping. However, over time this connective tissue can become damaged and torn, particularly when engaging in high-impact activities like gymnastics. Plantar fasciitis occurs when accumulated damage to the plantar fascia becomes debilitating, and is generally characterised by chronic heel pain which worsens during activity. You may also feel some numbness or tingling in the bottom of the heel.

Luckily, in most cases plantar fasciitis is not a serious condition, and can be treated with conservative, non-surgical treatments by your podiatrist. The most important part of recovering from plantar fasciitis is resting the foot and allowing the fascia to heal naturally, and many podiatrists will recommend fitting your foot in a cast or compression bandages to immobilise the foot and speed this healing process.

Podiatrists can also provide pain relief; in most cases this will take the form of ice packs and non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, although some podiatrists may use ultrasound therapy and corticosteroid injections to relieve more severe pain. In rare cases, damage may be so severe that corrective surgery becomes necessary; in these cases your podiatrist will advise you on the benefits and risks associated with these treatments, and help you make the best decision for both your gymnastics career and your overall foot health.

Achilles tendinitis

As one of the most important components of the foot the Achilles tendon is routinely placed under a great deal of strain, but gymnastics can place pressure on the feet that even this strong and durable tendon cannot handle. Located at the back of the heel, the Achilles tendon connects the heel to the calf muscles, and is vitally important for foot strength and control. When overused, however, this tendon can become inflamed and painful -- this pain can spread to encompass the entirety of the ankle joint, and will generally worsen over time without treatment. Sufferers can also feel stiffness in the affected heel after exercising, and may lose considerable load-bearing strength in the damaged foot.

Treatments for Achilles tendinitis focus on reducing this pain and swelling quickly, and podiatrists can offer a number of fast and effective ways to reduce pain and swelling. Compression bandages can be very effective for pain relief, and can help keep the tendon immobile to allow it to heal more quickly. However, improper use of these bandages can cut off blood supply to the tendon, decreasing healing times and increasing the risk of the tendon rupturing, so it is important to have your foot wrapped by a qualified podiatrist to minimise risks. Alternatively, podiatrists can fit your foot with a plaster cast to ensure immobility. Wearing night splints may also be helpful, preventing you from unwittingly moving the injured tendon your 

In terms of pain relief, this is generally supplied as oral medications such as ibuprofen, although ultrasound therapies and topical pain relieving gel may also have limited effectiveness. Massage therapy can also be helpful.