Just put some ice on it. Stay off of it for a few days. You have to keep walking on it.
Is this the advice you are hearing from your friends and family when you are having pain in your foot or ankle?
Sure, sometimes the RICE method is all your foot or ankle needs to make a solid recovery. Still, before you take your friend’s uncle's college roommate’s advice, it would be beneficial to take the time to figure out if you should actually consult someone who attended medical school, not just the school of hard knocks.
Here are some signs it may be time to see an orthopedic surgeon for that weak or painful foot or ankle.
You Have a Limited Range of Motion
As with many of the symptoms you may experience for foot or ankle problems, there is a lot of overlap. Different issues can often produce similar effects.
A limited range of motion can range from subtle stiffness to significant restriction which could be a sign of something more serious.
One possibility is that you've developed a bone spur. Also called osteophytes, these are small growths at the end of bones. They are made up of bone tissue and usually develop at the end of bones, at a joint.
When these develop, especially in more severe cases, they can rub up against other bones at the joint. This could prevent your joint from being able to go through its full range of motion. If a bone spur has developed to this point, it could be that it needs to be surgically removed.
Experiencing Ankle Weakness or Instability
Another common sign that you should consult an orthopedic surgeon is if you are experiencing ankle weakness or instability.
Your ankle likely will make a quick, full recovery after a single, minor ankle sprain. However, if you've suffered several sprains or even just a single severe sprain, you're likely to experience ankle instability.
When the ligaments in your ankle are twisted beyond their threshold, they can become overstretched. This is especially likely if you've twisted or sprained the same ankle on multiple occasions. The resulting effect could be that these ligaments become weaker due to chronic overstretching, which results in ankle instability.
The most severe would be a Grade 3 ankle sprain. This is a complete rupture of your ligament, and causes the greatest instability, as the ligament is no longer attached and is not providing structure to your ankle. If this is the case, seek medical consultation.
Your Minor Pain Begins to Grow More Severe
Perhaps you've experienced a chronic, but minor pain in your foot for some time. Yet now, the pain has started to grow in intensity. This can be an indicator that you've begun to develop a stress fracture in one of the bones of your feet.
Stress fractures are minute cracks in the bone which develop by subjecting your feet to repeated force from exercise or by the breakdown of your bone due to poor bone quality. They often present with pain and swelling that seems to be originating from the top of the foot.
If this is the case, it's best to consult an orthopedic surgeon who can recommend the adequate type of rest, footwear, or surgery, to alleviate the problem. Having this diagnosed early will help you to heal more quickly.
You Hear or Feel a Popping at the Time of Injury
Feeling or hearing a popping the moment you suffer an injury is a good reason to seek a medical evaluation.
If you've severely twisted your ankle, you may feel or hear a popping sound from the ligaments tearing or even fully rupturing. This would be a sign you've suffered either a Grade 2 or Grade 3 sprain.
You may also feel or hear a popping sound in your ankle if you've suffered a dislocation or break, as your ankle pops out of socket or the bone fractures. This is why smaller fractures are often mistaken for a sprain.
In the case of any one of these injuries, continuing to put weight on the affected foot can cause further damage, and it should be addressed by a professional as soon as possible.
You Experience Tingling or Numbness in Your Foot
A tingling or numb feeling in your foot or ankle could be a sign you need to seek medical treatment. A common reason for numbness in the foot is a Morton’s neuroma.
A neuroma is not a tumor, but rather a thickening of the nerve. It is often accompanied by bursitis which adds to pressure on the nerve. A Morton’s neuroma specifically involves the nerve that runs between the third and fourth metatarsals, branching into the third and fourth toes. It can sometimes be described as burning, numb, shooting pain on the bottom of the foot which radiates into the third and/or fourth toes. Sometimes people say that it feels like there is a bunched up sock in their shoe.
Symptoms like this differ from the description of a marble/pebble in the shoe type of pain in this area, which is often a characteristic of metatarsalgia. An orthopedic surgeon can help to decipher this for you and provide you with the appropriate treatment.
Orthopedic Surgeon or Ice Pack and Ibuprofen?
There's no need to live with chronic foot or ankle problems hindering your every activity. If you have been suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned above, it would be best to seek the consultation of an orthopedic surgeon. This way you can get the treatment you need to ease your pain and, if need be, repair any structural damage you may have suffered.
If you live in the greater New York City area and would like to get an expert consultation for your foot or ankle pain, get in touch with us. We'll (literally) get you back on your feet.