Old Ankle Sprains Increase Risk for Newly Active Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers now getting back into fitness and sports: Get your ankles checked for chronic instability caused by sprains and other injuries that might not have healed properly years ago.
Many people who have suffered ankle sprains in the past could be at risk for more serious damage as they age and try to stay in good physical condition. It is estimated that one in four sports injuries involves the foot or ankle, and a majority of them occur from incomplete rehabilitation of earlier injuries.
“Many older adult athletes who have had a previous injury that wasn’t fully rehabilitated may experience swelling and pain as they increase their physical activity, but pain isn’t normal in the ankle area, even if you’re starting to get back in shape. Both serious athletes and weekend sports participants often misunderstand how serious a sprain can be, and they rush back into action without taking time to rehabilitate the injury properly.”
Sprains that happened years ago can leave residual weakness that isn’t noticed in normal daily activity, but subjecting the ankle to rigorous physical activity can further damage improperly healed ligaments, and cause persistent pain and swelling. Some sprains are severe enough to strain or tear the tendons on the outside of the ankle, called the peroneal tendons. Persistent pain and tenderness after a sprain, especially if the individual felt a ‘pop’ on the outside of the ankle and couldn’t stand tiptoe, might be a warning sign that the tendon is torn or split. The injury is best diagnosed with an MRI exam.
Research has shown that more than 85 percent of athletes who had surgery to repair a torn peroneal tendon were able to return to full sporting activity within three months after the procedure.
Peroneal tendon tears are an overlooked cause of lateral ankle pain, although surgery for athletically active patients shouldn’t be taken lightly, surgical repair of the peroneal tendons is proving to be very successful in helping athletes with serious ankle problems return to full activity.
Surgeons say many Boomers who seek treatment for arthritis assume they’ll be able to resume activities such as running or playing sports. Seeking treatment early can improve the odds of preventing irreversible joint damage. For many patients with early-stage foot or ankle arthritis, changes in shoes or advanced custom orthotics can make a huge difference. While there is no fountain of youth for arthritis, surgeons say there are more medical options available to Baby Boomers than ever before.
Baby Boomers are most likely to develop osteoarthritis in their big toe joint. During walking, the big toe absorbs forces equal to nearly twice a person’s body weight. It plays an important role in stooping and standing. Some boomers start to develop big toe stiffness, a condition called hallux limitus, in their forties.
Better surgical procedures now offer improved pain relief and better joint movement to Boomers with early stage arthritis at the big toe. Patients with advanced and severe arthritis may need to have the joint fused or replaced. But stronger screws and hardware are helping fusions last longer while slashing recovery times. A new generation of big toe joint replacements shows promise.
Ankles are another prime spot for arthritis. Ankles are more likely to develop post-traumatic arthritis than osteoarthritis. For many Baby Boomers, the trauma was an ankle fracture or a bad sprain that may have happened in their teens or twenties. Innovative new surgical techniques allow foot and ankle surgeons to transplant small plugs of cartilage from one part of the ankle to another in some patients, slowing joint deterioration.
Ankle replacements, however, are not as durable as hip and knee replacements. The ankle is a more challenging joint to replace. It’s smaller and moves in multiple directions. But better and promising ankle implants are hitting the market.
Surgery to repair arthritic feet and ankles won’t make you 16 years old again, but Boomers can look forward to more options than ever to relieve pain and restore motion.