Young athletes could see their sports dreams evaporate if they do not seek prompt treatment and do not allow full rehabilitation of foot and ankle injuries. That warning comes from sports medicine experts with the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).
Athletic children who "play through the pain," ignore injuries, cut rehab short or skip it altogether could face repeated injuries and instability in their feet and ankles well into their teen years and adulthood. Long-term problems can include osteoarthritis and chronic ankle instability. People with untreated chronic ankle instability may suffer activity limitations, arthritis and tendon problems.
Surgeons say with more children playing high-level competitive sports, such as gymnastics, tennis, soccer, volleyball, track and field, even golf, they are treating serious foot and ankle injuries in increasingly younger patients.
"I'm treating chronic heel injuries in preteen athletes, where a few years ago, we saw these cases only among 16- and 17-year-olds," says Robert J. Duggan, DPM, FACFAS, a leading sports medicine expert with ACFAS. "When the level of competition intensifies, so do the stresses on the feet and ankles and ultimately, injuries."
Duggan says the injuries he has treated include high-level sprains, bruises to ankle bones responsible for transferring weight from the leg to the foot, sesamoid fractures, neuromas and heel injuries. Many injured children can avoid surgery. Instead, their foot and ankle surgeon will often immobilize the foot for a period of time followed by aggressive physical therapy.
Coaches and parents should seek prompt medical care for children who injure their feet and ankles playing sports and other activities.
"With the diagnostic tools available to foot and ankle surgeons, and knowledge of the demands of the child's sport, we can make a decision on whether surgery’s necessary, and in many cases, avoid it altogether," Duggan says.