Foot and ankle emergencies happen every day. Broken bones, dislocations, sprains, contusions, infections, and other serious injuries can occur at any time. Early attention is vitally important. Whenever you sustain a foot or ankle injury, you should seek immediate treatment from a podiatrist.
- "It can't be broken because I can move it." This widespread idea has kept many fractures from receiving proper treatment. The truth is that often you can walk with certain kinds of fractures. Some common examples: breaks of the thinner of the two leg bones; small "chip" fractures of either foot or ankle bones; and the frequently neglected fracture of a toe.
- "If you break a toe, immediate care isn't necessary." A toe fracture needs prompt attention. If X-rays reveal it to be a simple, undisplaced fracture, care by your podiatrist usually can produce rapid relief. However, X-rays might identify a displaced or angulated break. In such cases, prompt "setting" of the fracture by your podiatrist will help prevent improper or incomplete healing. Many patients develop post-fracture deformity of a toe, which in turn results in the formation of a painfully deformed digit with a most painful corn. A good general rule is: Seek prompt treatment for injury to foot bones.
- "If you have a foot or ankle injury, soak it in hot water immediately." Actually, hot water makes the blood vessels open wide, letting the blood rush into the injured area more rapidly, causing greater swelling. More swelling means greater pressure on the nerves, which causes more pain. An ice bag wrapped in a towel has a contracting effect on blood vessels, produces a numbing effect, and prevents swelling and pain. Later, possibly 48 or 72 hours, warm compresses or soaks can be used
- "Applying an elastic bandage to a severely sprained ankle is adequate treatment." Ankle sprains often mean torn or severely overstretched ligaments. These should receive immediate care, such as an X-ray examination and immobilization by professional strapping to reduce motion, casting and physiotherapy to ensure a normal recovery. Surgery may also be necessary.
- "The terms 'fracture' and 'break' are different." They are not. Both are proper in describing a broken hone.
Before Seeing the Podiatrist
If an injury or accident does occur, how can you help yourself until you can reach your podiatrist?
- Reduce activity. if pain persists, get off your feet.
- Elevate the foot higher than the waist to reduce swelling and pain.
- Use cold compresses or an ice bag wrapped in a towel in a 20 minute on/40 minute off cycle.
- Switch to a soft shoe or slipper. Take an old pair of shoes along with you to the podiatrist's office. Your shoes may need alterations to accommodate bulky dressings.
- For bleeding lacerations, cleanse well, apply pressure with gauze or a towel, and cover with clean dressing.
- leave blisters unopened if they are not painful or swollen.
- Foreign materials in the skin, such as slivers, splinters, and sand, can be removed with a sterile instrument. A deep foreign object, such as broken glass or a needle, must be removed professionally.
- Treatment for an abrasion is similar to that of a burn, since raw skin is exposed to the air and can easily become infected. Cleansing is important to remove all foreign particles. Sterile bandages should be applied, along with a first-aid ointment.
- Wear the correct shoes for the event. Good walking shoes provide more comfort and better balance.
- Wear hiking shoes or boots in rough terrain.
- Different sports activities call for specific footwear to protect feet and ankles. Use the correct shoe for each sport Don't wear any sports shoe beyond its useful life.
- Use steel toe-cap shoes for occupations which threaten foot safety. Be certain they are fitted properly.
- Always wear hard-top shoes when operating a lawn mower or other grass-cutting equipment.
- Don't walk barefoot on paved streets or sidewalks.
- Watch out for slippery floors at home and at work. Clean up obviously dangerous spills immediately.
- If you get up during the night, turn on a light. Many fractured toes and other foot injuries occur while attempting to find your way in the dark.