There’s no doubt it’s an exciting time to be an athlete on Long Island!
March is championship season for our basketball and ice hockey teams, of course. And while winter hasn’t completely thrown in the towel just yet, spring sports are just a few weeks from the start of spring sports. Our own Massapequa boys’ lacrosse team will be looking to defend their state title, while girls’ lacrosse, baseball, softball, tennis, and track & field athletes gear up for their seasons, too.
Whether you’re a current student athlete or just motivated to get moving by the improving weather, we salute you! Staying active is a critical part of maintaining every aspect of health—physical, mental, even emotional.
That said, sports can also easily lead to bad foot and ankle injuries, especially if you aren’t prepared for them or don’t treat them right after the fact.
Sports Injuries Are a Serious Problem
We’re not just saying that. The numbers are actually kind of shocking.
According to one recent study, as many as 9 out of 10 high school student athletes will experience at least one sports-related injury during their athletic “careers.” And unfortunately, more than half of them report having played through an injury.
We might have been told to “walk it off” when we were kids, but playing through an injury is absolutely the opposite of what you should be doing. In the long run, you’ll likely only make the problem worse and more difficult to treat, and increase the amount of time you’ll end up spending on the sidelines.
Nobody wants to have their season taken away from them, or to feel like they’ve let their teammates down. Athletes of all ages—but perhaps especially youth players—constantly feel the pressure to hide or downplay their discomfort, rather than admit they need help. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is exactly why, for example, so many heel pain cases become chronic, or why even minor sprains develop chronic arthritis or instability.
General Tips to Prevent Injury
Here’s another statistic for you: according to CDC estimates, more than half of youth sports injuries are preventable. Although it’s impossible to decrease your risk to zero, most athletes could still substantially reduce their risk by making smart decisions both before and during their seasons.
Whether you’re gearing up for the hockey state tourney, preparing for tennis, or playing almost any other sport, these general tips and guidelines can make a huge difference toward keeping your feet and ankles safe.
- Start your training early (and slowly). An adult can tell you that going from sitting on a couch most of the winter to playing as hard as you can in one afternoon can easily lead to a serious injury—but the risk for kids isn’t that much better. When you start your training several weeks in advance and let your body build up to “game pace” slowly, your injury risk is much lower.
- Cross-train your body. It’s okay if you really love one sport in particular! That said, you should avoid repeating the same activities over and over every day, especially if they are high-impact sports that are hard on your joints (basketball, tennis, track, etc.). Cross-training in low-impact activities like cycling or swimming not only helps you maintain better overall fitness, but allows those high-impact zones some time to rest and recuperate while other parts of your body can remain active.
- Wear the right sport-specific shoe gear. All-purpose athletic shoes are almost never good enough, at least not for rigorous play within an individual sport. The same goes for cleats—don’t expect ones designed for soccer to keep you safe on a lacrosse pitch or an infield. There’s a reason, for example, that basketball players wear bulky, shock-absorbent shoes with high cuffs for ankle protection, whereas sprinters need maximum lightness. Always make sure your shoes, cleats, or skates fit great and are sport-specific.
- Take practice seriously. More than 60 percent of high school sports injuries happen during practice, rather than in competition. The biggest reason is that kids, parents, and far too often coaches don’t take the risks as seriously and don’t insist on proper safety precautions.
- Warm up properly. You always want to stretch your body for a few minutes before serious exercise, warm up your muscles, and increase your heart rate in a slow and controlled manner.
- Don’t play through pain. A little mild aching or tenderness is one thing, but if you are in pain, get out of the game! This is a clear sign that serious damage has occurred, and your priority needs to shift to preventing the injury from becoming worse. The safest and best strategy is to stop activity, avoid putting weight on your injured foot, begin RICE therapy, and call the Foot Specialists of Long Island for follow-up care.
Considerations for Specific Winter and Spring Sports:
Here are a few extra specific tips for sports that are either wrapping up the winter season or beginning their spring season. (Remember, all the tips we mentioned above also apply!)
- Ice hockey: Hockey players are especially prone to high ankle sprains (usually caused by the skate blade catching a rut), as well as a condition called lace bite. If your skates are too tight, the skate tongue can aggravate the tendon at the front of your ankle. In either case, making sure your skates fit right and are laced properly is key. We also strongly recommend you break your skates in slowly over several short skating sessions before playing in them at full speed. This is more important for hockey, since skates can be a lot more rigid than most other types of athletic shoe gear.
- Court sports (basketball, tennis). Court sports can put you at greater risk of overuse injuries like Achilles tendinitis and stress fractures due to all the running and jumping you have to do on hard surfaces. Ankle sprains are also common due to the need to constantly start, stop, pivot, and move side-to-side. Make sure you wear good shoes and exercise your feet, ankles, and calves regularly.
- Lacrosse. In lacrosse, there’s also a lot of starting, stopping, running, and side-to-side cutting. That puts the ankles under a lot of pressure, which is why lacrosse cleats are usually cut much higher than soccer cleats. Lacrosse cleats also have a toe cleat for added grip, which soccer cleats cannot have for safety reasons. In short, while you can wear soccer cleats to play lacrosse (as in, they’d probably be legally allowed), for your safety you should always choose sport-specific cleats.
- Baseball and softball. One curious thing about these sports is that your risks are a little more dependent on position. Pitchers should probably look for cleats with a more rigid sole to protect their back foot during the push off, while catchers need their cleats to be more flexible, particularly in the ball of the foot area.
Get Prompt, High Quality Care for Your Foot or Ankle Sports Injury
As we said before, it’s vital that you seek our care for any sports injury you sustain, so that you can mitigate your risk, recover quickly, and get back in the game.
Our founding doctor, Mark Gasparini, knows what you’re going through. He’s an avid sports fan, former soccer player, and current youth soccer coach. Dr. Chhabra, too, was a multisport athlete in his youth, playing soccer (striker), baseball (catcher), basketball (power forward) and football (receiver).
In other words, our doctors know a thing or two about how seriously athletes of all ages take the game—and how quickly they want to get back on the field. We even offer advanced treatment options, including laser therapy, that many athletes appreciate. They can have a rapid and profound effect on both painful symptoms and the pace of soft tissue healing.
So don’t ignore the risks, and don’t try to play through ever-worsening pain. Get the help you need from the Foot Specialists of Long Island! You can contact us online or dial our Massapequa office directly at (516) 804-9038.