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Your feet are susceptible to significant trauma.

When discussing physical injuries, trauma refers to physical injuries occurring as a result of some external physical event, like cuts, bruises, broken bones. The type of injuries you might expect from a car accident, a fall, sports gone awry, a work accident, or a fight.

This, of course, encompasses a wide array of acute foot injuries, which a large variety of symptoms, treatments, and prognoses—however, types of foot trauma often have risk factors in common.

Types of Foot Trauma

Foot trauma comes in many forms, from mild cuts and bruises to severe traumatic injury associated with shock or even the potential loss of limb. Common types of foot trauma include:

  • Sprains. Stretched or torn ligaments are perhaps the most common form of significant foot trauma, often resulting from falls, rolled ankles on uneven ground, etc.
  • Strains. Strains occur under similar circumstances to sprains, but instead affect the tendons and muscles of the foot.
  • Lacerations. Cuts can vary in severity from the type that only requires a bandage to ones that require stitches, shots for tetanus, and aggressive use of antibiotics to avoid infection, depending on the nature of the injury.
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  • Abrasions. Scrapes and similar injuries from moving your foot across rough surfaces usually aren’t too severe, but can be at high risk of infection depending on the surface involved and whether any residue is left in the wound.
  • Punctures. Deep wounds from pointed objects are at a high risk of infection, and are a fairly common form of accidental foot trauma due to the ease of stepping on a nail or other sharp object. These often demand more attention than seems necessary at a glance.
  • Contusions. Bruising of the foot can vary in severity from simple discoloration and tenderness that heal in a single day to deep bone bruises which demand months of recovery. Contusions are common as an addition to nearly any other injury.
  • Fractures. With over 26 bones in each foot, there’s plenty of potential for fractures as a result of traumatic force. Overuse can also frequently trigger less serious stress fractures.
  • Dislocations. A type of injury in which the bone ends of a joint are forced out of place, deforming and immobilizing the joint. Dislocations often damage adjacent tissues, especially if corrected poorly.
  • Crush injury. Injuries resulting from an object compressing your foot, common in natural disasters, accidents, and deliberate attacks. These can have serious complications such as crush syndrome and compartment syndrome, potentially limb- or life-threatening conditions.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

While most foot trauma occurs due to acute physical injury, there are warning signs that can indicate an increased risk of overuse injury, point to a more significant injury than you may have initially realized, or put you at increased risk of a traumatic accident.

  • Pain. If your foot hurts, it’s important to take that pain seriously. Normal use of your foot shouldn’t hurt, and if it does, you’re at risk of overuse or accidents which can lead to worse injury. Similarly, if your foot hurts severely, you may have injured it without realizing it; broken toes often go unnoticed at the original moment of injury, for example.
  • Inflammation. Inflammation of your foot after an accident often points to sprains or strains if no other symptoms are apparent; depending on the severity, ice, rest, and NSAIDs may be enough treatment.
  • Limited motion. If you notice limited motion in your foot, it demands serious attention; it can indicate serious undetected injury, overuse injuries, or various pathologies.
  • Visual changes. If your foot looks wrong, even if it doesn’t hurt, you may have a serious injury that requires immediate medical attention.
  • Minor injury. Minor injuries often give way to more serious injuries, especially if you continue the activity which led to the minor injury without any change in habits, equipment, etc.

Highest Risk

Most foot trauma occurs as a result of objects falling on the foot, stepping on something, or falling. Especially likely sources of foot trauma include, but are not limited to:

  • Sports and recreation. Sports offer a huge variety of ways to injure your body, feet included. Landing poorly after a jump, taking a hit with your weight settled wrong, changing directions on wet grass and slipping, dropping a bowling ball; the list of ways you might hurt your feet during sport or recreation are essentially limitless. Proper technique and safety standards often exist explicitly to reduce these risks, and should be taken seriously.
  • Occupational hazards. Many work environments offer significant risk of foot injury—and for this reason, many work environments suggest or require non-slip and/or steel toed shoes.
  • Home projects. Home projects such as home improvement construction and maintenance efforts present a variety of risks to your feet. Stepping on nails and other sharp objects, dropping tools or construction materials, and falling from heights are all common sources of foot injury.
  • Falls. Falling, tripping, and simple accidents of environment or poor coordination offer a number of ways to injure your feet. Something as simple as misplacing your foot coming down the stairs can put you on crutches for months.

Proper footwear, attention to footing, and situation-dependent best practices can massively reduce your risk of foot trauma in all its forms, while also significantly reducing your risk of overuse injuries and various other conditions of the foot. So take your time, pay attention to what you’re doing, and protect your feet—it’s much easier than recovering from a serious injury.