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WHAT ARE THE MAIN FOOT INJURIES SEEN IN CLIMBERS ?

Rock climbers, like all athletes, rely on healthy feet. Climbers often wear tight climbing shoes and use their toes to grip the rock, and it is important that their feet be free of pain and foot disorders.

According to Dr. Suzanne Belyea, Medical Director for Foot.com, "The Foot Health Network", a web site that provides comprehensive information on foot health, climbers should take care of their feet daily, like any athlete or person concerned about their feet. Some conditions to watch out for are hammer toes, mallet toes, achilles tendonitis and cramping.

A hammer toe is a toe that is contracted at the PIP joint (middle joint in the toe), and can lead to severe pressure and pain. Ligaments and tendons that have tightened cause the toe's joints to curl downwards. Hammer toes may occur in any toe, except the big toe. There is often discomfort at the top part of the toe that is rubbing against the shoe.

Changing the type of footwear worn during daily life is a very important step in the treatment of hammer toes. When choosing a shoe, make sure the toe box (toe area) is high and broad, and can accommodate the hammer toes. Other conservative treatments include using forefoot products designed to relieve hammer toes, such as hammer toe crests and hammer toe splints. These devices will help hold down the hammer toe and provide relief to the forefoot. Gel toe shields and gel toe caps are also recommended to eliminate friction between the shoe and the toe, while providing comfort and lubrication.

If this or any foot problem persists, Dr. Belyea recommends that you consult your foot doctor.

A mallet toe occurs when the joint at the end of the toe cannot straighten. Excessive rubbing of the mallet toe against the top of the shoe can lead to pain and the development of a corn. The tip of the toe is often turned down against the shoe causing pressure and discomfort.

The development of mallet toes is often caused by bone and muscle imbalances. These imbalances become exaggerated in people with active life styles.

Dr. Belyea notes that any forefoot problems that cause pain or discomfort should be given prompt attention. Ignoring the symptoms can aggravate the condition and lead to a breakdown of tissue, or possibly infection. Conservative treatment of mallet toes begins with accommodating the deformity. The goal is to relieve pressure, reduce friction, and transfer forces from the sensitive areas.

As with hammer toes, shoes with a high, broad toe box are recommended during daily activities.

Dr. Belyea also noted that "weekend warriors" who are inactive during the week and then climb or participate in other activities on the weekend are at a risk of cramping in muscles that have not been stretched or exercised. If cramping occurs, the climber should slowly stretch and massage the area to work through the cramp until the pain disappears.

Finally, Dr. Belyea noted that it is possible that some climbers may be at a risk for achilles tendonitis due to the stretched position relied upon during climbing.

Achilles tendonitis causes inflammation and degeneration of the achilles tendon. The condition can cause shooting, burning or even an extremely piercing pain, and should be treated to avoid weakening or even rupturing the tendon. Achilles tendonitis can be treated by the use of orthotics. Dr. Belyea recommends seeing your doctor.

For more information on these or other foot conditions, visit www.foot.com