Track And Field - Preventing Foot And Ankle Injuries

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Track and field is a sport that has wide participation due to its varied events. However, foot and ankle injuries can quickly end a season. The foot has to absorb 275% of one's bodyweight when running. This results in a lot of strain during a race. Injuries such as plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the tissues on the bottom of the foot) and tendonitis are common among runners. There are certain steps that can be taken to avoid these injuries throughout the season.

Throughout the running cycle, the foot first pronates (turns in) and then supinates (turns out). If the foot pronates too much or too soon there can be excessive stress placed on tendons and ligaments. If the foot does not go into enough pronation, there is insufficient shock absorption and excessive stress placed on the lateral (outside) foot. Pain and injury can also occur into the knee, hip or back if either of these problems is occurring. Improper foot mechanics can be determined by examining a shoe that has been used for running. Excessive pronation can be detected if the inside of the sole is worn more than the outside; if the outside is more worn than the inside, not enough pronation is occurring.

There are several reasons that a foot does not go through the proper range of motion (ROM) during the running cycle. One reason may simply be the structure of the foot. A foot with a naturally low arch is more flexible causing it to pronate excessively. A foot that has a high arch is more rigid and may not pronate enough. Another reason for improper mechanics is insufficient flexibility. If the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf) muscles are tight, the foot is not able to perform the proper motions needed for running. A final reason is insufficient strength. If the muscles in the ankle, knee, and hip are too weak to control the motion of the foot during high velocity, weight bearing activity, the foot will not be controlled properly.

Proper shoe selection is important for having an injury free season. For a foot that excessively pronates, it is important to find a running shoe that will provide the proper amount of stability and support. Looking for a shoe with a straighter last (the curve of the sole) and a medial post (dense material of the midsole) will also help to decrease pronation. For a runner who does not pronate enough, a shoe with more cushioning is necessary. A more curved last will facilitate proper pronation during the running cycle. Make sure the toe box is large enough to give toes enough room during push off to decrease compression at the forefoot. Finally, a higher heel on a running shoe will benefit those who run longer distances since they tend to heel strike more than sprinters who want a lower heel height.

Training is, of course, a very important part of having a successful track season. However, it is important to train for more than speed and endurance. Stretching the muscles surrounding the hip, knee, and ankle is necessary to maintain full ROM for correct running mechanics. Sustained (holding for at least 30 seconds) stretches give the best results. Stretching after a workout may allow a better stretch since the muscles have warmed up and are more pliable. For runners, it is important to focus on the muscles in the calf, the back of the thigh, and the front of the hip.

Following these basic principles and participating in the normal speed and endurance workouts will decrease the chance of injury and allow optimal performance.

Brenda Keller is a Physical Therapist at the Excel Physical Therapy of Nebraska.

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