The biggest reason women in particular limp in to see their doctor? Improper footwear. In fact, nine out of 10 women's foot issues can be attributed to too-tight shoes, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).
But no need to stay seated in sneakers all day. "If you just tweak your footwear and give your feet some TLC, you should be able to stave off most problems," says Hillary Brenner, DPM, a New York City podiatrist and spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association. Here, the key moves that'll keep you striding strong for years to come.
Culprit # 1: Ankle sprains
The lowdown. If you've had one recently, you're in good company: An estimated 25,000 ankle sprains take place every day, according to the AAOS. They occur when your foot twists, rolls, or stretches beyond its normal range of motion, causing a possible tear in the ligaments there. This can happen during a run or even from something as innocuous as tripping over a curbor stumbling in a pair of stilettos.
What it feels like. A sprain can range from grade 1 (you've got some tenderness and swelling, but can still walk) to grade 3, with swelling and pain so severe you can't put weight on your foot even after several days. If it's the latter, you'll need to see a doctor for a splint, possibly crutches, and even physical therapy. Although you may be tempted to blow off a sprain and just hobble around on it, don't: About 40 percent of all ankle sprains can lead to chronic pain, often because they don't heal properly.
The Rx. First 72 hours: Follow the RICE protocolrest (keep off the sprain as much as you can and, if you must walk, use crutches), ice (for 20 minutes, four times a day), compression (use a bandage or an ACE wrap, available at drugstores, to immobilize and support your ankle), and elevation (keep your ankle propped up above your heart level as much as possible to minimize swelling).
After 72 hours: If swelling has gone down and you're putting weight on your foot again, you can do some light at-home strengthening exercises, provided they don't cause you any pain, says John Kennedy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Try ankle circles: Gently rotate the affected ankle in one direction, then in the other. Perform 10 reps, three to four times a day. On the other hand, "if there's no improvement within about three days, see your doctor for an exam and possibly an MRI," Dr. Kennedy says. A more severe sprain can damage the cartilage or lining of the joint, or bone can chip off, which, if untreated, can lead to early-stage arthritis."
After a week: You should be pain free and back to your normal activity if you had a mild (grade 1) sprain, Dr. Kennedy says. If you're still limping, though, do get in to see your doctor. You may have a grade 2 sprainor worseand will most likely need physical therapy to retrain those torn ligaments. "Otherwise, sprains will keep happening," Dr. Kennedy explains.