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The Most Dangerous Sports for Your Feet and Ankles

Dr. Donald Pelto

Reviewed by
Dr. Donald Pelto

Athletic competition is important to all societies. It encourages physical fitness and teaches children the value of teamwork and sportsmanship. … and, perhaps more important, it’s fun! But sports can also be dangerous.

In this article we will discuss which sports are most likely to cause foot and ankle injuries, and how to minimize the risk of such injuries.

Football

American football is one of the best loved pastimes in the US, but it is a rough game that can cause myriad injuries to the head, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs—and to the feet and ankles.

The damage it can do:

  • High ankle sprain. This is one of the most common injuries in the game. A high ankle sprain affects the syndesmotic ligaments, which are located above the ankle, and it is caused by outward twisting of the ankle and foot.
  • Shin splints are pain that attacks the places where the calf muscles attach themselves to the bone. Shin splints are caused by overwork and repetitive stress.
  • Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. This is a short-term injury, but if it is not properly treated it can turn into a chronic condition known as Achilles tendonosis.
  • Blisters can occur from excessive exposure to bad weather (not uncommon in football, given the time of year during which the game is played) or from poorly fitted footwear.
  • Turf toe is named for the place where it most commonly occurs—on the playing field. Turf toe happens when a toe is forcibly jammed or bent too far back, causing hyperextension of the ligaments.
  • Lisfranc injury. A fracture or dislocation of the bones of the midfoot is called a Lisfranc injury (it is named for the French surgeon who first diagnosed it in the early nineteenth century).

How to Protect Yourself:

The practice of ankle taping is tedious and time consuming, but it is one of the best ways to minimize the kinds of ankle injuries that are almost inevitable in football. Safe, regular practice and muscle conditioning are also important.

Basketball

The damage it can do:

  • Stress fractures are caused by repetitive stress that overwhelms the ability of the muscles to act as shock absorbers. This stress is then transferred to the bones. The risk of stress fracture can be heightened by sudden increases in activity when a player has not been training regularly and keeping in shape.
  • Achilles tendonitis. The constant jumping and running required in basketball puts players at risk for Achilles tendon problems.
  • Ankle sprain. Basketball players are very prone to ankle sprains—especially high ankle sprains—due to the nature of the sport, which constantly requires them to stop quickly and turn while running at high speeds.

How to Protect Yourself:

The most important steps a basketball player can take to prevent foot and ankle injuries are to take the time to tape his ankles and to choose his footwear properly. If you play basketball, consult with your coach, get the advice of a podiatrist, and spend some time researching shoes online.

Soccer

While soccer—known to the rest of the world as football—has never enjoyed the same popularity in the US that it does abroad, it is on the rise here, and soccer-related injuries are rising with it.

The damage it can do:

  • Achilles tendonitis. Like many other sports, soccer carries a high risk of Achilles tendonitis.
  • Ankle sprains are perhaps the most common soccer injury. The game requires constant pivoting and turning in much the same way that basketball does.
  • Metatarsal fractures also happen frequently to soccer players due to the constant kicking the game requires.
  • Ankle impingement (also known as “footballer’s ankle”), a condition in which bone spurs form on the bones of the ankle and pinch the nerves and soft tissue, causing considerable pain.

How to Protect Yourself:

After any extended period of inactivity, you should resume your training program gradually. Begin with aerobic exercise and strength training, and resist the urge to over-train. Proper shoes are also important.

Tennis

Tennis players face risks of foot and ankle injury similar to those faced by basketball and soccer players, and for similar reasons—the game requires a player to run very quickly in a small space, frequently making instantaneous changes of direction. Tennis players are therefore at constant risk for ankle sprains, stress fractures, and Achilles tendonitis. Tennis players are also at increased risk for plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot.

How to Protect Yourself:

As with any other sport, proper footwear, attentive ankle taping, and gradual warmup before strenuous play will go long way toward preventing injuries.

Running

In a way, running is the mother of all sports-related foot and ankle injuries. Participation in any competitive sport requires constant running, which leads to the risks of acute foot and ankle injury and chronic foot and ankle problems. But pastimes like jogging and sports in which running itself is the object—including sprinting and marathon running—pose special risks.

The damage it can do:

  • Shin splints
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Ankle sprains
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Stress fractures
  • Blisters

How to Protect Yourself:

If you run on a regular basis, whether competitively or just to keep yourself fit, you need to take the same precautions as any other type of athlete. Proper shoes will help you to:

  • Protect your ankles and arches from repetitive stress
  • Protect your skin from blisters
  • Protect your tendons from excessive wear and tear
  • Reduce stress on your calves, thereby reducing the incidence of shin splints

Whatever sport you participate in, make sure to do your research so that you are well informed about the type of protective gear you need to wear, and always be sure to warm up gradually before competing or practicing.

Medical References:

    http://www.nsmi.org.uk/# http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/football-injury-prevention.aspx Lievers WB, Frimenko RE, Crandall JR, Kent RW, Park JS (2012). "Age, sex, causal and injury patterns in tarsometatarsal dislocations: a literature review of over 2000 cases". Foot 22 (3): 117–124. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PainManagement/story?id=117542 http://www.ektio.com/ NYU Langone Medical Center http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=13817 University of California San Francisco Medical Center http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/tips_for_preventing_foot_and_ankle_injuries/ US Soccer http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2014/03/17/12/24/100915-anklesprains

This page was last updated on October 1st, 2015



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