Football Injuries and Regenerative Medicine

Dr. Robert Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

You don't have to be a native Texan to know how big football is here in our state. Pop culture has more than driven this point home in movies like: Friday Night Lights, North Dallas Forty, Varsity Blues, Carter High, Junction Boys, Necessary Roughness, etc.

Here in the real world, you only have to think about our professional teams—our hometown Texans and that other team up in Dallas—and the many successful (to varying degrees...) collegiate programs: Longhorns, Aggies, Cougars, Mustangs, Horned Frogs, Red Raiders, Bears, Owls, Tigers, etc.

Oh, and that's all said without addressing our 700+ high school football teams and countless youth football programs.

If baseball is the nation's pastime, it can be said that football is Texas's pastime.

Now, the fact of the matter for any sport is this:

All physical activities have at least a certain degree of injury risk.

If you paid close attention, we didn't even limit that to sporting activities. After all, you could potentially sprain an ankle walking across the Houston Public Library's parking lot or going up the stairs at our city hall.

That said, injury risk is higher for sports (where speed and strength are definite considerations). And this risk is amplified in a high-collision sport like football. 

(Just ask J.J. Watt.)

Given how they're used, the odds are particularly high for foot and ankle injuries. (Of course, this is also true for a myriad of of other sports. Football is not unique in this regard.)

Football player on the field at night with the lights on

When it comes to sports injuries, there are measures you can take to lower that injury risk, but you won't ever be able to completely remove it. The good news is that we have an array of nonsurgical treatment methods proven to be rather effective at relieving painful symptoms and helping you get back to action.

We'll talk treatment in just a moment, but let's start first with a quick look at some foot and ankle injury prevention measures football players should take:

  • Wear proper footwear. Obviously, we recommend you wear football shoes while playing the sport—your coach probably does as well—but beyond that, make sure they fit correctly.

Shoes that are too big do not secure the ankle, which contributes to increased risk for sprained ankles and allows feet to slide around inside (a possible cause of blistering). Too small is also an issues, since this leads to toes being crowded in the front.

To find a proper fit, make sure you buy your shoes in-person at a brick-and-mortar store (instead of online). The reason for this is because you might “know” what your shoe size is, but not all manufacturer’s sizes are the same. So a size-9 from one company might be the same as a size-9 ½ from another.

  • Stretch regularly. In addition to ill-fitting footwear, another root cause of foot and ankle injuries and pain is tightness in muscles or connective tissues. This should make sense if you think about the highly-integrated nature of our bodies.

For example, a tight calf muscle is going to pull on the Achilles tendon. In turn, the Achilles pulls on the heel bone, which can put excess strain on other tissues found throughout the foot (and toes).

Accordingly, one way to lower injury risk from this particular concern is by stretching on a regular basis. Fortunately, this doesn't mean spending hours doing an insane amount of stretches. Even about five minutes a day can work wonders in keeping your lower limbs loose and limber.

  • Hydrate. There was a time when football coaches had the mentality of “taking water breaks is a sign of weakness,” but we’re all getting smarter than that. At this point, it’s pretty well-known that dehydration is a big problem.

One issue that might not come to mind as readily—when compared to risk of heat stroke (etc.)—is cramping, and there are many muscles in the lower limbs that can cramp, cause pain, and keep you sidelined.

There are other ways to avoid foot and ankle injuries while playing football, but now we need to focus on some of the common ones before moving onto advanced treatment options we offer to resolve them.

We treat an array of football-related injuries, including:

  • Turf toe. Fans of football, baseball, and soccer all hate hearing this term used in conjunction with their favorite athletes, but we find that many people aren’t too sure as to what it entails exactly. Basically, this is a big toe sprain and it can happen when the front of the foot “sticks” in the ground while the rest of the body keeps moving forward (which bends the toe back farther than it is intended to ever go).
  • Ankle sprains. Quite possibly the single-most common injury—foot-related or otherwise—humans sustain, these occur when a foot twists too far along the horizontal plane. In doing so, the ligaments supporting the ankle joints are extended beyond their normal range of motion). The key with a sprained ankle is not going back to physical activity before it has healed completely—doing so can lead to chronic instability.
  • Achilles tendon ruptures. The Achilles tendons are the longest and strongest tendons in the human body, but they aren't infallible. When faced with excessive strain, an Achilles can rupture (completely tear). This can cause, as you’d likely imagine, severe pain and dysfunction.
  • Stress fractures. These surface-level fractures are more often seen in long-distance runners, but can also develop in football players who train excessively and do not give their bones time to replenish fatigued cells. At first, the pain from a stress fracture is usually mild, and then it will increase in severity over time if sufficient rest is not provided.
  • Bone fractures. Sometimes, fractures sustained during football games and practices are the kinds that are more traditionally thought of than stress fractures—such as spiral, transverse, oblique, greenstick, and compound fractures. Usually, the key to effective treatment is stabilizing the area, keeping weight off the affected limb, and then resting to allow the body time to mend the broken bone.
  • Heel pain. If heel pain came from a single condition, it would quite possibly challenge ankle sprains for that title of “most common injury.” Instead, heel pain is caused by several different injuries, such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis. These two leading sources are both soft tissue injuries caused by inflammation and damage to a plantar fascia and Achilles tendon (respectively).

Sports Injuries and Nerve Issues

Beyond those musculoskeletal types of injuries, we also sometimes treat patients who start developing nerve-related pain following football games or practices. (Please note that this is true of MANY other sports and athletic events as well. Football is a common sport, but we don't want to exclude others.)

In these cases, the core issue is often a matter of nerve compression. You can think of this problem as a nerve that is being pinched (compressed) by or within some kind of anatomical structure. As football is a contact sport, it makes sense that this could happen. Given the sport consists of muscular people in pads hitting each other as hard as they can, some compression is bound to happen.

An example of this you might already be fairly familiar with is carpal tunnel syndrome. (We’d use tarsal tunnel syndrome as a foot-related illustration, but carpal tunnel is simply more well-known.)

Without going too far into detail, one of your nerves running down your arm and into your hand travels through an anatomical tunnel—your carpal tunnel. When inflammation, swelling or scarring from a sports injury causes the nerves to be compressed in the non forgiving, rigid, fibrous and bony tunnels, your nerves generate pain symptoms such as burning, tingling, numbness or shooting pain.In response, the median nerve doesn't function as intended, and may also send painful signals back to your central nervous system (spinal cord and brain).

There are a variety of areas in your lower limbs wherein nerve compression can develop. If this is something you’re experiencing, it can be quite frustrating.

We have some good news, however:

One of our specialties here at Parker Foot & Ankle is in the field of nerve conditions and surgeries.

A diagram of a nerve in a body

Depending on your specific situation (naturally), we might have a procedure available that can decompress the affected nerve so you are able to find the relief you need.

Now, this kind of treatment is typically invasive in nature, but we have an array of advanced, regenerative medicine options that may help you find relief from the pain of those aforementioned injuries.

Regenerative treatments we provide include:

  • An amniomatrix product which is a special allograft derived from amniotic fluid and umbilical cord stem cell-derived growth factors. Essentially, this therapy uses biological material discarded during birth that is rich in natural nutrients and factors which can improve the amount of pain relief you experience during your treatment.
  • Another entirely noninvasive therapy provided in our office called extracorporeal pulse activation treatment (EPAT). With EPAT, specifically calibrated pulses of high-frequency soundwaves are directed at the injury site by our trained team. When this happens, your body responds by flooding the area with factors that can reduce your pain.
  • One more advanced treatment we might use to help you find relief is radio frequency nerve ablation (RFNA), which is something we might recommend if other conservative options have not been as effective as we’d hoped to see. Whereas EPAT affects growth factors, RFNA works on affected nerves by turning off pain signals being sent to the brain.

You can learn more about these respective regenerative therapies in this blog post.

Of course, if you’d like more information about football injuries, regenerative medicine, or any of the services we provide at Parker Foot & Ankle, you can feel free to give us a call at (281) 497-2850. And if you’re ready to put your foot pain behind you, you can always connect with us online as well.

 

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