Fact or Fiction? Shining a Light on Prevalent Foot and Ankle Myths

Published April 6, 2017

Talk to any physician. Patients come into the office asking questions about something they saw online, or heard from a friend, thinking they have found a trusted source. Some of these myths are harmless, such as, “I should be drinking eight glasses of water each day.” Well, there is no set number of glasses of water you should drink each day, but staying hydrated is critical.

As a foot and ankle surgeon, my patients often have questions about proper foot and ankle care – and I have heard myths of all kinds. But it’s important that you take proper care of injuries or pains in your feet, and seek medical care – beyond the internet – if you suspect something is wrong. Let’s take a look at some of the more common myths I’ve heard in the office, and how I respond to my patients when they ask these questions.

Myth: A bone is not broken if you can walk on it.
Fact: Any one of the bones in the foot or ankle can break but may not initially hurt enough to prevent walking. Some people have a high threshold for pain and can tolerate walking on a broken bone. This is a problem, though, because sometimes a broken bone stays in the correct position, but walking on it can cause the bones to shift or move into a bad position. This shifted broken bone may then require an orthopaedic surgeon to set and fix it.

Myth: An ankle or foot is not broken if you can move it.
Fact: Just because you can move the foot or ankle after an injury does not mean that it is not broken. Ligaments, tendons and muscles hold the 26 bones together, and a broken bone can still move. Moving a broken bone in some cases can cause it to shift, separate or displace, necessitating correction by an orthopaedic surgeon with a cast or even surgery.

Myth: Breaking a toe does not need treatment. It will heal fine by itself.
Fact: Many times, broken toes will heal fine. Unfortunately, though, the bone may end up being crooked, misshapen and painful. Sometimes the orthopaedic surgeon will need to “set” the broken toe bone, strap it into position or even put a pin in it to hold it straight. Any injured toe should be evaluated with an X-ray, to avoid further complications down the road.

Myth: A bone fracture is worse than a bone that is broken or a bone that is cracked.
Fact: A break, fracture and crack are simply different names for the same injury, and they all can require immediate medical attention.

Myth: Soak a foot or ankle injury in hot water immediately.
Fact: Depending on the injury, hot water can cause the swelling to increase, the pain to increase and the injury to become worse. It can also cause a burn to the skin. Hot water does not help a foot or ankle injury heal. Ice is a better option to reduce the swelling and pain.

Myth: Not wearing shoes and going barefoot is good for your feet.
Fact: This is not necessarily true. Although it’s becoming a popular trend, walking barefoot makes your feet susceptible to cuts, scrapes, wounds and even fungal nail infections.

Myth: You need to change your sneakers every few months or every 300-400 miles.
Fact: Depending on your running style, weight and the surface on which you run, changing your shoes can be necessary at different times. A light runner may go longer than a heavier runner before the shoes need to be replaced. Running on trails may require replacing the shoes sooner than running on a treadmill. When the cushioning and shock absorption thins out, replacing your sneakers is a good idea. If your feet start to hurt, you start to experience shin splints or feel knee pain, you may want to look closely at your shoes and invest in a new pair.

Myth: Corns have roots.
Fact: Corns are a buildup of skin caused by friction between the foot and the shoe, commonly seen on hammertoes or toes that are not straight. Corns are also seen over a prominent bone. The hard excess skin, or corn, can be shaved down, but unless the curved bone is straightened or the prominent bone is padded appropriately or shaved down, the corn will come back.

Dr. Steven Neufeld is a foot and ankle surgeon and the founder of The Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle care center, offering a variety of foot and ankle procedures including the total ankle replacement. Dr. Neufeld is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University and a Clinical Instructor at Georgetown University Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He is active in clinical and biomedical research, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a board member of The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics and a board member of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society Foundation.