How playing racquet sports impacts on the foot

Racquet sports players burn a lot of calories on the court. Their feet get quite a workout too. The game requires constant movement: forward and backward, side-to-side, running, jumping, lunging and sometimes stumbling! With all this pounding that the feet, ankles and the Achilles and other tendons around the ankle endure, racquet sports can cause a number of foot-related problems for players.

Potential problems and when to seek the help of a podiatrist

One of the most frequently encountered court injuries is the common ankle sprain, due to the lateral aspect of these sports. Other court injuries are more shock-related, such as stress fractures in the foot or tibia. Stress fractures can be hard to detect and often people will continue to play and delay the correct diagnosis.

If the stress fracture is in the metatarsal bone the most frequent site - there can be swelling in the forefoot. But stress fractures can occur in any of the 26 bones of the foot without many symptoms. Some are more common than others, but all of them can happen in court sports. In the stronger, more dense area of the mid-foot, they can take a long time to diagnose, and if not properly diagnosed, can lead to devastating consequences. Whether competing in court sports on an organised level or as an amatuer, the foot should not hurt. If pain persists, consult a podiatrist.

Another common injury site is the heel. Heel pain can indicate a plantar fascia injury or bone spur. The plantar fascia is a thin, very strong tissue band that supports the arch of the foot, stretching from the heel to the ball of the foot. As the arch falls, the band of tissue is under increasing tension and the weakest link is where the tissue attaches to the bottom of the heel. Over time and with repeated shocks, micro-events can occur and cause the fascia to tear from the heel, resulting in bone spurs.

Other problems occurring in any sport that may stress the foot and lower legs are high arches, flat feet, hammer toes, differences in leg length and muscle tightness. Wearing the correct equipment can reduce lower leg and foot stress.

Equipment required

Athletic shoes protect the feet from the stresses of the sport for which they are designed. So when playing racquet sports, wear shoes made for racquet sports. These shoes will provide stability for side-to-side movement. They are heavier and stiffer than running shoes and the toes are supported for stop-
and-go action. Select tennis shoes based on comfort. Price, brand name and special features mean nothing if the shoes do not fit comfortably. Select sport socks that are designed for racquet sports. They provide additional padding where it is needed and wick away perspiration. When buying new tennis shoes, be sure to try on the socks with the shoes. The sock’s extra padding can make a difference in how the shoes fit by half a size.

Replacement insoles for shoes can also make a difference.

Special shoe orthotics (inserts) may correct abnormal foot motion and alignment. They can make foot motion more efficient and correct structural imbalances. Orthotics can also relieve pain and reduce the risk of foot injury. Always talk to a podiatrist first for professional advice to ensure you get the correct orthotic for your feet. Remember, the right shoes, socks and foot care will keep your feet healthy and less prone to injury.

Five top tips

  1. Always warm up: a gentle stretching of the lower extremities and the Achilles tendon will help prevent injuries. Lean against a table or wall, placing one foot behind the other. Always roll the weight to the outside border of the foot and don’t stretch to the point of producing pain.
  2. Buy new, high-quality athletic shoes and replace them frequently.
  3. Have the proper footgear for the sport; running shoes are not suitable for sports such as tennis due to their lack of lateral support.
  4. Seek appropriate support for arches; flat and high arches call for custom-made arch orthotics (inserts) in shoes.
  5. For children, be aware of the potential for injuries of the growth plate in the heel. Persistent heel pain is more than simple overuse; kids should stop participation immediately and a diagnosis should be sought.

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