Foot/ankle pain is one of the most common types of sports injuries. Some people deal with foot/ankle pain for years. I’m going to show you how to stop foot/ankle pain from taking over your life!
Foot/ankle pain can be one of the most limiting and frustrating types of injuries you may ever have to deal with. It can go on for years if not properly addressed.
One of the biggest issues with foot/ankle pain is that it can negatively affect every area of your life. You may even start feeling pain in the opposite leg because of always having to rely on it for support. This small issue can soon turn into an avalanche. Foot/ankle pain can get in the way of spending quality time with your family or staying involved in your favorite sport. You may never think you’ll ever be the same again!
Not only this, but foot/ankle pain can interrupt everyday tasks you normally take for granted. Walking up or down stairs, getting in and out of your car, or just getting on and off of the couch. Even changing the way you walk!
It doesn’t stop there -- having foot/ankle pain can also lead to deeper issues like anxiety and depression.
Having to avoid activities that you like to do -- or even the simple everyday tasks -- can make you feel depressed. Sometimes just the anticipation of doing those activities can cause pain or apprehension and leave you feeling all sorts of upset.
Foot/ankle issues can happen to anyone. But having foot/ankle pain is something you CAN recover from!
You’ll just need to use the right approach with help from the right professional.
I’m going to get into the details about what a proper foot/ankle pain recovery program should look like. You can use this info to overcome the foot/ankle pain you’re dealing with and take back control of your life!
If done correctly, you’ll be even better than before you had foot/ankle pain!
Key Factors to Recovering from Foot/Ankle Pain
These are the KEY FACTORS to recover from foot/ankle pain:
There’s more to it, and we’ll be getting into the details. But the majority of foot/ankle pain cases can be easily addressed by paying close attention to the key factors listed above.
You’ll want help from a competent licensed professional to help you along the way. I’ll make sure you know how to choose the right healthcare provider and the questions they should ask you.
All of these key factors should be addressed in a thorough and well thought out clinical exam and assessment. Make sure the professional you reach out to for help addresses each one of the key factors. Feel free to ask them too. If these factors are not a part of your plan then you may be in the wrong place!
Let’s dive right in!
1. Figure Out What Movements and Positions Cause you Foot/Ankle Pain
What are the most reliable movements or positions you do regularly that always cause you pain?
This may seem straightforward but is often overlooked!
Answers that I often hear are…
“Every time I place pressure on this leg like this I get a sharp pain!”
“I’m normally okay but when I want to spar in jiu jitsu I just can’t because of some of the positions I find myself in.”
“It doesn’t bother me unless I do a good leg workout. If I do that I end up in a ton of pain that evening or the next day!”
This is an excellent place to start! These movements and positions that are most important to you should be the first priority in your plan. But you’ll want to go even further.
You’ll want to categorize the types of specific movements or positions that upset your foot/ankle. The keyword here is getting SPECIFIC. The better you can identify these movements or positions the better your plan will be. And the faster you will overcome your foot/ankle pain!
One of the reasons you’ll need to identify these is so you temporarily avoid doing those specific movements so your foot/ankle has a chance to heal and desensitize.
Foot/Ankle Pain: Your Body’s Alarm System
Pain is your body’s alarm system. Pain tells you that something is wrong so you can correct the problem or learn to avoid an issue that may cause you trouble in the future.
When you repeatedly do foot/ankle movements or sink into positions that your body perceives has the potential to do harm, the alarm will go off constantly. Because of this, the alarm can become recalibrated!
It gets too sensitive -- your body thinks it needs to be on high alert. Soon everything you do with your foot/ankle will ring the alarm even if it isn’t in harm's way!
To avoid this and help your pain calm down, you’ll want to temporarily avoid the movements that are causing the alarm to sound. When your body experiences less of that pain, you’ll be interrupting the pain cycle. This will cause the alarm will naturally go back to its natural setting. And will help you recover much faster.
Figuring out what movements or positions cause you pain helps you make easy modifications so you can go about your life while experiencing less pain. This is only temporary. But it’ll allow your body to recover and you’ll be a lot happier along the way.
Taping or Bracing
A very simple method of protecting your foot/ankle and temporarily avoiding the aggravating movements after an injury is to use supportive tape or a brace.
Doing this can help protect your foot/ankle but also allow you to participate in the daily activities you need and want to do without pain or making things worse.
After your clinical exam, you’ll be able to identify what movements or positions make your foot/ankle upset. Using this knowledge your doc should help you figure out what type of tape application or foot/ankle brace is right for you.
In either case, ensure that this does not interfere with your normal movement any more than it needs to in order to protect your foot/ankle. You don’t want to limit yourself and your movement so that it gets in the way even more. Make sure what you’re doing is productive.
Keep in mind, this is a temporary solution! You won’t need to wear a foot/ankle brace or use tape on your foot/ankle every day for the rest of your life. You’ll just want to use it as you recover and then wean yourself away from it.
2. Identify Pain-Free Movement Options
You also need to know what movements do NOT cause pain. This is just as important as identifying the painful movements. Maybe even more important!
The problem is when you have foot/ankle pain it can place limits on what you can do.
You’ll feel like you can’t live a normal life. You may not want to do much of anything out of fear it might cause pain.
You’ll need to figure out what movements do not cause foot/ankle pain so you can get on with your life. This process involves getting specific about your movements again so you’re aware of what movements are safe.
This will give you the freedom to do your everyday tasks again by identifying simple pain-free modifications. And when you can do that, you’ll be helping to restore confidence in your foot/ankle again. This will also help to reduce the alarm!
Not only will this help you do everyday tasks but this process can also help keep you active! Nobody likes to be on the sidelines. But by being specific about this process and smart about the modifications you may able to get back in the game as well!
If your doc isn’t working hard to find ways that you CAN move in along with the ways that are painful, you’ll be missing out.
Having a clear understanding of both of these things helps to take the mystery out of your foot/ankle pain. Relieving much of the anxiety and depression that comes along with it, allowing you to recover faster, so you can move on with your life!
More Movement Options for Foot/Ankle Pain
One of the best ways to help you find more pain-free movement is to open up your movement options in your foot/ankle.
When dealing with foot/ankle pain, a lot of times this can be achieved by gaining more mobility and control over your hip and ankle movements. Simple movements that enhance your mobility in these areas can take a large burden off of your foot/ankle and provide you with the relief you’re looking for.
It can also make you a better athlete!
Something to keep in mind regarding hip and ankle mobility…
When I say mobility I’m referring to ranges of motion that you can CONTROL!
Many people have huge available ranges of motion in these areas but LACK control and this leads to more problems. They likely need more strength and coordination in their hips or ankles rather than a ton of mobilizations and stretching.
However, another person may lack available ranges of motion and will need to work on freeing up more movement in their hip and ankle BEFORE prioritizing strength and coordination.
Make sure you are doing what is best for YOU!
Your clinician should be able to help you find the best movement options for your specific situation. This is another reason why a proper clinical movement assessment is important for your recovery process!
3. Identify Foot/Ankle Pain Reducing Movements
Your provider should help you figure out simple and effective movements that can reliably reduce your pain. These don’t have to be elaborate. They just have to work!
The thing you’ll want to focus on are movements that you can do on your own!
Why is that? Because you need to be able to reliably reduce your pain every day multiple times a day to help reduce that awful pain cycle we discussed earlier. This is MUCH better than only getting relief when you see someone for help.
Plus, wouldn’t you want to have control over your pain? And be able to put a stop to it whenever you’d like? Or at least ease it up a bit so you don’t have to feel it nagging at you throughout the day?
A good doc will guide you through a process that identifies reliable ways for you to get this done. As I said, they should be SIMPLE. Because the easier they are for you to do then the more likely you will stay consistent!
Speaking of which…
If there is one thing I cannot stress enough when it comes to recovery… it’s Consistency!
A couple of simple pain relieving exercises or movements throughout the day are way better than 1 long session only a few times per week.
Try not to overcomplicate things! Just figure out what makes you feel better. Simplicity is always best. That way you can quickly find relief without feeling like you’re an acrobat!
You want consistent “feel-good” inputs that all day long. This way you pain alarm system is being reset back to normal. And you’ll feel better, faster!
Stay consistent and you’ll be well on your way to victory!
5. Stay ACTIVE!
When you first read that you may have been thinking…
“How am I supposed to stay active when I’ve got this nagging foot/ankle pain?”
Let me explain.
You’ve identified what movements flare things up.
You’ve identified what movements are safe.
You have ways to make yourself feel better all on your own.
Using this information you will want to figure out how you can continue to do the activities you love. This can be playing with your kids, jiu jitsu, surfing, CrossFit, and anything else which is an important part of your life.
Figuring out a plan to keep you engaged and active should be a priority. Your doc will work to make this happen so you can continue to enjoy your life.
This will likely include some modifications to keep the recovery process coming along. But better to modify and stay in the game than to sit on the sidelines!
You may notice that having to modify things will only make you better in the long run!
I have had many patients that had to work on existing weaknesses in their sport due to their foot/ankle pain. This allowed them to recover but also enhanced areas they often neglected. As a result, they were way better than they were before this process!
Which brings us to another important part...
Your plan should include a strategy to not only get you out of pain but to make your foot/ankle and body more resilient so you don’t have to deal with more foot/ankle pain in the future. One of the best ways to do this is to GET STRONGER!
No, this doesn’t mean if you don’t work out that you should be expected to dive right into explosive barbell training.
Your doc should help you devise a plan that fits your specific needs and the goals you have. This program should meet you where you are currently at and help you to progress in a safe manner.
Again, this plan should be as simple as possible to serve the goals that you have for yourself. Overcomplicating things will only make it harder to stick to and harder to stay consistent.
This may not include any sort of weights at all. You may be better off with a bodyweight program and that will be perfect for where you are at. On the other hand, you may be perfectly capable of continuing to go BEAST MODE in a safe manner without having to worry about making your foot/ankle worse.
In either case, it should be challenging. If you don’t challenge your body it will not grow and adapt to be more resilient. You do not need to finish in a pool of sweat and soreness! You just need to make sure you have to put in an adequate effort.
What Your Clinical Examination and Assessment Should Look Like
This will include a complete medical history, clinical examination, and movement assessment performed by a licensed healthcare professional.
There are a lot of smart and caring people out there that can help others recover from pain. These include trainers, strength coaches, and massage therapists. Some movement practitioners like yoga and Pilates instructors do great work as well.
They all have their place in helping someone recover from foot/ankle pain but they are not trained to perform a clinical assessment! It's simply not in their wheelhouse. If they happen to miss something, it could be disastrous and make things much worse.
Ensure you are examined by a licensed clinical expert. It is not worth the risk to do otherwise!
Questions That Should Be Asked During a History
A ‘history’ is the story behind your foot/ankle issue.
This will consist of you explaining what you are dealing with and followed up by questions from your doctor. It will be a major part that will guide your care, the clinical exam, and your movement assessment.
This is the entire story about your pain. All of the things that led up to and currently surround your problem. This helps you get a complete understanding to then form your plan.
This is just as important as the rest of the process! Maybe even more important.
Your doc should take plenty of time to get to know your story and understand everything going on. They should take the necessary time to listen to you!
If they don’t take the time to do this or if you feel like they’re rushing it, you’re probably in the wrong place.
Here are some of the questions and follow-up questions that they should ask you:
Functional Questions that Create Your Plan
How is this foot/ankle pain interfering with your life? What can you not do now that you could do before without pain?
This question is very important to help guide your plan! This includes everyday activities -- getting ready in the morning, driving, your training or exercise routine. How is this foot/ankle pain getting in your way?
What are your short and long-term goals?
Your plan needs to revolve around your short-term and long-term goals. This is extremely important!
In the short-term, your goal could just be to get out of pain. Your long-term goal could be to work to never have to suffer foot/ankle pain again -- and not have to worry about foot/ankle pain interfering with your life.
Here’s a real-life example of short-term and long-term plans:
You have an important event coming up. It’s a jiu jitsu competition that you need to train hard for.
Your long-term goal is to get the gold medal. But your short-term goal is to be able to consistently train 5 days a week. You can still accomplish both of these with a proper plan!
The process of getting a proper history takes time.
In my office, this usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. I need to completely understand your story in order to help you the best I can. Following your history, a clinical examination and assessment is probably going to be another 20 minutes or so.
The provider you're working with needs to spend the right amount of time listening to your story. They should be asking you a ton of questions.
In my opinion, you’re not getting the care you deserve if you’re being rushed through either part of this process.
What to Look for in a Healthcare Provider
A major component of getting out of foot/ankle pain is finding the right healthcare provider. This person will have the ability to help guide you through this whole process.
Here’s what to look for!
A quality healthcare provider...
Spends plenty of time with you.
As we discussed above, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked. A 5-minute or 10-minute appointment will not cut it. There’s no way they’ll be able to give you the care you deserve.
There’s simply no way they can develop a specific plan for you in that short amount of time. I wouldn’t recommend any healthcare provider that limits their visits to 5-10 minutes. RUN!
A thorough clinical assessment must involve physical tests. These can help identify what is relevant to your situation and rules out what is not. This also takes time, because it’s important that nothing is missed!
Focuses on your concerns and priorities.
What matters most to you is what matters most of all!
This needs to be a primary concern of your healthcare provider. Your concerns and priorities will determine your goals. Someone that isn’t listening won’t create a plan around your needs.
Lets you be independent.
Good healthcare providers always figure out what you can do to help yourself. They won’t keep you relying on them forever to get out of pain.
Your treatment plan should not revolve around gizmos and gadgets. They can help of course, but shouldn't be the meat and potatoes of your recovery.
The person you need is going to prioritize an active approach and put you in charge of your recovery.
Maintains focus on your personal goals
They’ll constantly focus on your personal goals and revisit them to make sure you’re on track.
Finds ways to keep you moving
They will get you moving! In ways without the pain of course. Your ability to move will be a priority.
Continuously updates the plan as you progress
Things always change. And your plan will likely change as you move forward. Your doc will be prepared for that and make sure you are too.
Feel free take these questions and ask a prospective healthcare provider, “I’m looking for someone that does this...Are you that person?”
If they can't say “Yes” -- I’d suggest you look for somebody else!
The road to recovery can be a winding road.
There's going to be ups and downs, twists and turns. As you avoid painful movements and start to incorporate them back into your life, you may experience some minor flare-ups. That's normal!
Stick with the plan -- change it as necessary -- and you'll keep the good times rollin’! This isn’t something that you should have to suffer from for the rest of your life.
Typically foot/ankle pain only hangs around for a week or two. But I've seen some that's lasted months, and unfortunately years. I’ve even seen people that have been living with foot/ankle pain for over 10+ years! And I’ve helped them regain control of their life.
You don’t have to live like that!
I am usually able to get people out of pain and discharged in 4 to 6 visits. For some people, even one visit is enough!
And they’re not just out of pain but they have an education and understanding that empowers them to keep it from happening again. If it does come back, they know how to get out of it all by themselves.
Many times I’ve seen foot/ankle pain turn into a launching pad for improving yourself -- in all sorts of ways.
Overcoming foot/ankle pain can move you toward training smarter, more consistently, better productivity, and making positive decisions about the future. Not just feeling better, or athletic performance -- but in many areas of life!
Use the information we’ve covered to find relief in the short-term. Then build a long-term plan to keep you on track -- and doing what you love.
Thank you for reading! I hope you’re able to take control of your foot/ankle pain better moving forward.
And if you need help with this process -- give me a call. I’m ready to get you back in action!
Also check out our other recovery guides for the following: neck pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain, back pain.
***The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.***