Foot and Ankle Pain Caused by Swimming

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It’s that time of year in Houston…school’s out, swimming pools are open, and the hot weather makes taking a dip just about the most appealing thing in the world. For those who swim year-round, it’s easy to take it in stride and follow Dory’s advice, “Just keep swimming!” However, for most people summer time will be a chance to hit the water after months – or even years – without a swim. While swimming is classified as a “low-impact” activity, it is still a physical challenge for anyone who hasn’t kept it up consistently.

Those who over-exert themselves in a pool or in the ocean can experience a wide range of body aches and problems. Swimming, after all, can take a lot out of you. Most people only think of the role of the arms in propulsion, forgetting that good technique involves the core, legs, feet and ankles. Because of this, swimming requires strong feet and flexible ankles. Otherwise it’s easy to suffer aches, cramps and even inflammation from putting the body through these repetitive motions.

What causes foot pain among swimmers?

Most swimming injuries occur as a result of excessive training, poor technique and a rapid increase in swimming volume. For recreational summer swimmers, all three of these factors can stack up to cause foot and ankle pain.

Aches and Pains

Repetitive movement of the ankle while performing the flutter kick in freestyle swimming can lead to inflammation. Tendonitis is a common injury among swimmers., especially those who haven’t figured out how to balance power and efficiency during the kicking movement. Improper kicking increases the amount of stress the foot and ankle are subjected to. One common tip for reducing the likelihood of cramps and tendonitis is to avoid pointing the toes rigidly. Maintaining a flexible foot is more effective and safer for your joints. When you kick use your hip rather than your knee. Allow your knees to bend while you kick and make sure that your ankles are aligned with your hips.

Foot Cramps Are No Fun

Out of nowhere, a swimmer can experience a brutal, stabbing pain in the feet while swimming. Foot and toe cramps can occur due to a couple of reasons. You can have foot cramps as a result of tired feet, or when you keep your feet locked in the same position for extended periods of time. A tip for avoiding cramps is to gradually increase swimming time. You can also rest by taking breaks from swimming. Get out of the water and stretch your legs or perform calf raises. Don’t forget that cramps are also related to your level of hydration. You should always drink plenty of water if you’ll be under the sun or exercising for long periods of time, so double-down on water consumption. Throw in some electrolytes for better results. These include foods or snacks rich in potassium, magnesium, and sodium (careful not to overdo the salty stuff, though!)

Heel Impact

Long-distance swimmers – those who knock out lap after lap for hundreds (or thousands) of meters – see the pool wall MANY times. They learn quickly that the best way to keep their momentum going is by executing a flip turn. In this move, a swimmer starts a blind somersault as they are approaching the wall. If timed correctly, this flip points the swimmers upper body back towards the far wall as the feet make contact with the near wall. Because the legs compress like a spring, the athlete can then propel off the wall, pushing hard with both legs. The problem arises when swimmers have not yet mastered this move and they find themselves slamming their heels or the ball of the foot into the wall. This can cause bruising that lasts a few days or oven impact that strains the ankle, sidelining them for weeks at a time. This can be avoided by practicing and perfecting the flip technique, which includes managing timing and approach speed while flipping.

Athletes Foot

Athlete’s foot occurs as a result of the growth of tinea pedis fungus on the feet. Swimmers often contract athlete’s foot, leading to itchiness, raw skin, blisters and oozing in the feet. This fungus thrives in warm and moist environments, and of course, showers, locker room floors and swimming pools are perfect breeding grounds. It’s recommended to always wear some type of flip-flop when walking in these public areas. Further precaution involves thoroughly washing and drying the feet, including between the toes. Athlete’s foot is stubborn, so if you have a case that won’t go away, try coating your feet with medicated foot powder or spray.

At Houston Foot and Ankle Care, we treat all types of problems of the foot and ankle. Whether you need a routine foot checkup, treatment for pain or deformity, or surgical correction, Dr. Maislos will help you get back on your feet as soon as possible.

Call (713) 541-3199 if you experience:

  • pain after physical activity
  • fungal infection
  • heel pain

Houston Foot and Ankle