Ah, the great indoors!
Thanks to New York’s typical wet, slushy, snowy, and frequently frigid winter weather, many athletes and active people have switched over to indoor pursuits.
High school and college teams in season include basketball, gymnastics, indoor track and field, wrestling, bowling, fencing—in other words, lots of sports that take place in a gym, and often on hard floors.
And while you’ll still see plenty of New Yorkers braving the cold to challenge a morning run, many weekend warriors have exchanged their tennis rackets and soccer balls for a gym membership, pickup basketball league, or maybe even a couple of long days exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(If you’ve ever been, you know that exploring all 2 million square feet of the Met requires both plenty of time and good physical fitness!)
Now, as a practice with a keen interest in making sure our patients stay healthy, we heartily endorse staying active and getting lots of exercise even during the dark New York winter. And the nice toasty warmth of the indoors can help make that happen for you.
However, it’s important to remember that spending all day standing, walking, and especially running and jumping on hard surfaces like gym floors (or pavement, or art galleries) can seriously stress out your feet—if you aren’t careful about it.
The Problem with Hard Surfaces
Today, most of us spend virtually our entire days standing, walking, running, or even playing sports on hard and flat surfaces. But you have to remember that it hasn’t always been this way for the human species.
Tile, marble, and wood flooring and pavement aren’t exactly “natural” features, and they’re a lot harder than dirt, clay, or grass. So if you’re an active person spending a good chunk of your day on these kinds of floors, you’re dealing with certain stresses than your ancient ancestors may not have had to deal with!
You also have to consider that playing sports significantly ramps up the amount of abuse your feet take in a short period of time. It’s not just the pressure of your own body weight.
In fact, the impact forces assaulting your heels and arches could be several times the value of your own body weight if you’re running, and especially when landing after a jump.
So as you can probably imagine, high-impact indoor sports like basketball carry certain injury risks—both acute traumas and chronic overuse pain.
Common indoor lower limb sports injuries include:
- Ankle sprains. We probably don’t have to explain this one (but we will anyway). After an awkward landing or fall, your ankle may twist at least a little beyond its normal maximum range of motion—tearing one or more ligaments that support the ankle joint in the process.
- Achilles tendon injuries. Since it’s responsible for enabling the foot to flex and move up and down, the Achilles absorbs an incredible amount of force when running and jumping on hard surfaces. Chronic overuse can stress the tendon and cause the fibers to become inflamed or torn. In some cases, a significant enough blow can cause the entire tendon to tear (or even completely rupture).
- Plantar fasciitis. Excessive, repeated pressure on the heels and arches can inflame or tear the plantar fascia ligament on the bottom of the foot. The result? Constant, aggravating pain underneath the heel that often feels worst right after getting out of bed.
- Stress fractures. Normally, the soft tissues of your feet and arch are supposed to soften the blow of repeated impacts. However, as they get stressed out, more and more of that force is transferred directly to bones. Over time, this can cause the bones to crack and fissure, resulting in chronic, aching pain.
Now, does this mean these sports are “dangerous” and that you shouldn’t play them? No, of course not!
It just means that you should be smart and intentional about how you play and train. Although there’s no way to completely eliminate your injury risk, you can lower it significantly if you know what you’re doing.
Foot Protection Tips for Indoor Athletes
If you want to avoid injuring your feet on hard indoor floors, make sure you follow these easy tips.
The right shoes for the right sport.
You may have noticed that a typical basketball shoe looks quite a lot different from, say, a running shoe. There’s a reason for that!
The common risks and pressure your feet face while playing or performing one activity may be quite different from those of a different activity.
Let’s stick with basketball shoes a moment. You’ll notice most come with fairly high ankle cuts—that’s to support and protect the ankle during frequent stops, pivots, and direction changes.
You might also notice they’re fairly heavy and bulky compared to other kinds of athletic shoes. And while that may be a little more fatiguing, the truth is you really need those thick soles and cushioning to soak up all the impacts from jumping.
The advice here is simple. If you play a particular sport or engage in a specific athletic activity regularly, you should wear shoe gear designed for that activity. Wearing the wrong type of shoes increases your risk of sustaining a painful injury.
Prepare for play.
This is a pretty broad concept, so we’ll break it down a bit.
In part, this means that you’re properly warmed up and ready to go before you start seriously training or playing. In other words, get your stretches in, do some light cardio, and get your body in “exercise mode” before dialing up the intensity.
It also means that you eat right on game day, drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise, and get plenty of good sleep.
And in a longer-term sense, it also means that you don’t push yourself too far beyond your physical limits. If you’re just starting a new sport (or just getting back to one after a long time off), make sure you take it slow at first.
When you subject your body to pressures and motions it isn’t used to performing, it’ll take time to adjust. Go too hard, and you might wind up with something like stress fractures—or a ruptured Achilles.
Mix up your activities.
In other words, you shouldn’t be playing your chosen sport, or even only high-impact sports or exercises, day after day after day.
It’s important to build appropriate breaks and rest days into your schedule, so that you give your body time to heal and recover from the “microtrauma” or training. This is, quite literally, how you get stronger. By contrast, overworking yourself without allowing your muscles to rebuild themselves will just lead to more weakness and pain.
On days when you aren’t playing or training for your particular sport, seek out exercises and activities that are low impact or work other body parts and muscle groups. Strength training is definitely on this list, as it’s important for athletes in virtually every sport or discipline. But it might also include, for example, low-impact cardio like cycling (indoor or, if weather permits, outdoor) or swimming at the local pool.
Don’t try to push through pain.
You may have heard something a long the lines of “no pain, no gain.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) that’s not really fully true.
While improving your fitness or your ability at a given sport does take hard work and may sometimes leave you feeling tired or sore, true pain is something that you shouldn’t try to “walk off” or ignore. It’s a sign that something’s been injured or broken, and needs to be attended to.
So listen to what your body is telling you, and if your body is screaming “STOP!” heed its warning. Then, get on down to Brook Valley Podiatry.
Our foot and ankle sports injury expert, Dr. Stuart Birnbaum, will carefully identify the type and severity of your injury, then help you take the appropriate steps to correct it with high quality treatment options.
We understand every athlete is unique, and that you want to get back to playing as soon as possible. Our treatment plans are customized and designed to meet your lifestyle goals and get you back in the game—healthy and safe—as quickly as possible.