It’s hard to cope with a sports injury—and we’re not just talking about physical pain here.
If there’s one thing that athletes don’t want to do, it’s stop … or even slow down. So after an injury you may feel extremely frustrated, angry, or even depressed. You might even be tempted to ignore what your body is telling you—with potentially disastrous consequences.
In our last blog, we shared a bunch of simple, practical tips you can follow that will reduce your injury risk, so you’re less likely to get hurt in the first place. Check it out if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
But let’s say you didn’t follow our advice—or you did, and you got hurt anyway. What now?
Well, properly caring for your injury—as well as your mental and emotional wellbeing—is extremely important. Denial isn’t going to do you any favors.
Obviously, every injury is different, and will require carefully adherence to a specific treatment plan set out by your doctor. With that caveat out of the way, let’s look at some general advice on how to cope with, and recover from, a foot or ankle injury that keeps you out of action.
If you’ve suffered a sudden, traumatic injury—say a broken bone, ankle sprain, Achilles rupture, etc.—your first response in those critical few moments can make a huge difference for your overall recovery time.
For starters, stop bearing weight on the affected foot immediately. Quickly assess whether or not you need emergency care. Significant wounds, misalignment of bones, numbness, instability, or inability to bear any weight whatsoever would be some clear signs that you need to call 911.
Even if you don’t need to call an ambulance, you will want to call a foot and ankle specialist immediately to set an appointment as soon as possible. (We’ll explain why in the next section.) In the meantime, begin following RICE protocol right away:
- Don’t bear weight on the affected foot or engage in activities that aggravate the condition. Better safe than sorry.
- Contain swelling with a cold pack, or bag of ice wrapped in a towel. (Never touch ice directly to bare skin.) Use ice as soon as you can for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t ice more than 20 minutes at a time, no more than 4 times per day.
- If applicable, use a compression wrap or sock (elastic wrap, bandage, etc.) to further limit swelling.
- Whenever you can, prop your injured foot up with pillows. It’s best if you can get it above the level of your heart.
Call Your Podiatrist
Far, far too many times we won’t see an athlete until after they’ve been suffering for weeks, and their once sort-of-painful-but-still-bearable heel pain has turned into daily agony.
We know that no one likes calling the doctor. It can be scary. We get it. But if you hurt yourself and the pain doesn’t seem to be going away, you really need to call us.
- Pain is never normal. It’s not just part of getting older or playing the game, and it’s not necessary for “gain.” Pain means something is wrong, and you need to fix it.
- Injuries that aren’t treated properly usually get worse. Even a simple ankle sprain—one that otherwise could have been treated at home—can develop into chronic pain, permanent instability, and even post-traumatic arthritis if you don’t allow it to heal properly. Addressing injuries early saves a lot of time and pain in the long run.
- Every injury is different. You can’t always rely on “Dr. Google” to tell you how to handle your injury at home. Google can’t diagnose you, and he can’t give you a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific condition and needs. Again, we’ve treated lots of well-intentioned athletes who followed “online advice” that only made their situation worse.
When you visit us, we’ll give you a complete, thorough exam so you know exactly what happened and exactly what you need to do to get better as quickly and effectively as possible.
And while we offer a ton of advanced, state-of-the-art treatment options that can help (laser therapy, acoustic therapy, AmnioFix injections, etc.)—all of which are extremely beneficial for athletes in particular—we’re not necessarily going to recommend them if we think all you need is a little physical therapy and a new pair of shoes.
In short, we’ll talk through all your options and make sure you have a treatment plan that makes sense and is appropriate for your situation. But if you don’t visit us in the first place, you won’t know what treatment is best—and to be honest with you, you’ll probably guess wrong.
Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions. Seriously, Do It.
After you see us, you’ll get a detailed plan for your treatment and your rehabilitation. You’ll get all the information you ever needed about stretching, what you need to do to recover quickly, when you can bear weight again, and how soon you can start to return to varying activities of varying intensity levels.
Do you think we put those guidelines together just for fun? Or because we like keeping you away from activities you enjoy?
Of course, we’re teasing. But for athletes especially, it can be really tempting to rush back into activity too soon, especially once you’ve started feeling a little better.
Well, just because it feels better than it did doesn’t mean it’s healed. And if you put your foot or ankle back under major stress before they are ready, you are very likely to get injured again—only worse this time.
Stress fractures are notorious for this, but just about any injury can relapse if you don’t take your doctor’s instructions seriously.
Do you want to have to do this all over again? We think not. So trust us. We know what we’re doing, and we really do want you to get better as quickly as possible.
Other Tips to Help You Recover Faster (and Stay Positive)
Injury recovery and rehab can be extremely frustrating. There’s no way around it. Here are some additional quick tips to help you keep healing, and keep you mentally and emotionally engaged:
- Eat healthy and drink lots of water. Your body needs good nutrition in order to function at peak efficiency. That includes the repair mechanisms that are hard at work knitting your injured tissues back together.
- Get lots of sleep. Same deal here—sleeping well will help you recover faster and feel better overall.
- Stay as active as possible. You might not be able to play your chosen sport, or put weight on your injured foot, but that doesn’t mean your only option is sitting on a couch all day. Obviously, your doctor will need to approve any exercise plan, but often you can return to no-impact or low-impact exercises (swimming, cycling, etc.) relatively quickly. This has numerous advantages—not only does it help you stay positive mentally, but by better maintaining your fitness during recovery you can shorten the time spent in rehab.
- Keep your mind engaged. Even when you can’t be as active as you’d like, it helps to give your brain something to do. Sick of Netflix? Work on a puzzle, read that book you never got around to reading, learn a new craft—or maybe even a new language. Find an outlet, even a temporary one, for all that focus and determination you’d normally spend on sports. You might even develop a new lifelong hobby!
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Depending on the nature of your injury, it may be difficult to accomplish daily tasks safely, such as cooking, cleaning, or even getting up and down the stairs. You may also feel lonely or isolated. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, or even just companionship during your recovery.
Although injury recovery is never really “fun,” a good attitude and careful attention to detail when it comes to following your doctor’s injury recovery instructions should make the process much faster and more pleasant.
But you need to make that call in order to get a diagnosis and customized treatment plan first! To schedule an appointment with one of our foot and ankle physicians, please call the office closest to your location today:
- Myers Park: (704) 334-8682
- South Charlotte: (704) 542-8253