Doctors recommend ways to prevent ankle injuries

Fastest-growing group of Achilles tendon patients are ages 30-50, doctors say

HOUSTON – Each year, about 230,000 people in the U.S. injure their Achilles tendon, and that number keeps going up. Now, doctors are looking for ways to prevent these common injuries.

Since she was 6, gymnast Nia Dennis has had one dream.

“My goal is to make the Olympic team,” Dennis said.

But that goal was cut short after a training session last year.

“I knew something was off when I was starting to run my tumbling pass and I felt a pop, and my whole calf got tingly and cold,” Dennis said.

Dennis ruptured her Achilles tendon, the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. Doctors said they have been seeing an increase in these types of injuries over a 10-year span.

Though common in young athletes, the fastest-growing group of patients are active and between the ages of 30 and 50.

“I think we’re seeing more of the middle-aged and older patients because they are staying active longer,” ankle and foot surgeon Dr. George B. Holmes Jr. said.

“There are a lot more of these Tough Mudder, Spartan-like races -- that’s really uneven ground and territory,” Dr. Simon Lee said.

But there are ways to prevent ankle injuries.

First, wear the right shoes. If your soles have uneven wear marks, toss them.

Try using an ankle brace for support during risky activities such as a mud run.

Also, perform strength and balance exercises such as standing on one leg for 30 seconds or doing one-leg mini squats. Do 10 reps to the front, side and back, and repeat three times on each leg. And stretch before and after physical activity.

“The tires are the only thing that touches the road in a car, so they always tell you to have really good tires. So similarly, the feet and the ankles are the first thing that hit the ground for everyone,” Lee said.

Dennis had surgery and said she is already back competing in Level 10 gymnastics.

To help stop ankle injuries from occurring, physicians of Midwest Orthopedics collaborated with athletic trainers to launch Ankles for Life, a public awareness program that provides athletes of all ages with tools to incorporate ankle injury prevention tactics into their workout and warmuproutines. These exercises can be found at www.anklesforlife.org in a downloadable brochure. The website also includes information on how to order complimentary gym tags with ankle injury prevention tips.

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