Foot and ankle emergencies happen every day – especially in the icy days of winter. Broken bones, dislocations, sprains, contusions, infections, and other serious injuries can occur at any time. Early attention is vitally important to minimize complications.
“During the winter months, we often see patients that have ignored an ankle twist or toe injury that may have occurred from a slip on the ice or winter sports in previous weeks,” said Dr. Jodie Sengstock, Michigan Podiatric Medical Association President. “Because of the delay in medical attention, their recovery period is usually a lot longer and the risk of permanent damage has increased. We encourage everyone to take foot and ankle trauma seriously.”
If an injury or accident does occur, the MPMA (www.mpma.org) suggests taking the following steps to help yourself until you can reach your podiatric physician. They are easy to remember if you can recall the word “rice.”
- Rest. Restrict your activity and get off your foot/ankle.
- Ice. Gently place a plastic bag of ice wrapped in a towel on the injured area for 5-10 minutes unless specified by a doctor as someone with diabetes or vascular disease is at high risk.
- Compression. Lightly wrap an Ace bandage around the area, taking care not to pull it too tight.
- Elevation. To reduce swelling and pain, sit in a position that allows you to elevate the foot/ankle higher than your waist.
- For bleeding cuts, cleanse well, apply pressure with gauze or a towel, and cover with a clean dressing. It’s best not to use any medication on the cut before you see the doctor.
- Leave blisters unopened if they are not painful or in a weight-bearing area of the foot. A compression bandage placed over a blister can provide relief.
- Foreign materials in the skin—such as slivers, splinters, and sand—can be removed carefully, but a deep foreign object, such as broken glass or a needle, should 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. It is important to remove all foreign particles with thorough cleaning. Sterile bandages should be applied, along with an antibiotic cream or ointment.
- Wear the correct shoes for your particular activity.
- Wear hiking shoes or boots in rough terrain.
- Don't continue to wear any sports shoe if it is worn unevenly.
- The toe box in “steel-toe” shoes should be deep enough to accommodate your toes comfortably.
- 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 one’s way in the dark.
Some myths about foot and ankle injuries include:
"It can't be broken, because I can move it." False; this widespread idea has kept many fractures from receiving proper treatment.
"If you break a toe, immediate care isn't necessary." False; a toe fracture needs prompt attention.
"If you have a foot or ankle injury, soak it in hot water immediately." False; don’t use heat or hot water on an area suspect for fracture, sprain, or dislocation.
"Applying an elastic bandage to a severely sprained ankle is adequate treatment." False; ankle sprains often mean torn or severely overstretched ligaments, and they should receive immediate care.
"The terms 'fracture,' 'break,' and 'crack' are all different." False; all of those words are proper in describing a broken bone.