dr. thomas mcdonald foot and ankle specialist

What Is Equinus And How Is It Treated?

If ankle joint movement is limited or restricted, you are going to have a difficult time walking or moving in a normal manner. One type of foot condition that can lead to ankle flexibility problems is called equinus, and it occurs when a person struggles to flex their foot upwards (dorisflex) as it should. When this range of motion is restricted, you inherently start to compensate for this lost flexibility, and this can lead to a number of other problems for your feet. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at why equinus develops, what untreated equinus can lead to and how the problem is treated.

Equinus Causes And Why Treatment Is Needed

Equinus can have a genetic component, or it can develop as a result of an injury to the legs and ankle complex. Oftentimes the most common reason for equinus and limited dorsiflexion motion is due to an overly tight Achilles tendon. A tight Achilles tendon can simply be the result of the genetic cards you were dealt, or the tendon can lose some flexibility after an injury or if it needed to be reconstructed with surgery after rupturing. Sometimes environmental factors also lead to Achilles tendon tightening, like if you have limited use of the leg for a bit while you’re in a foot cast, or due to regularly wearing high heels.

If you don’t work to help decrease this Achilles tendon tightness, a number of related foot problems can develop. For example, due to this limited upwards flexion, your arch can end up flattening out or overpronating when you walk, putting you at a heightened risk for plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, calf cramps and shin splints.

Many people end up shifting how they walk to compensate for this lack of flexibility, and they may not even realize how their gait is changing. Picking up their heel earlier than normal when walking can put added pressure on the ball of your foot, which can lead to neuromas or metatarsalgia. Over time, this added pressure can lead to faster tissue degeneration and midfoot arthritis.

Potential problems tied to equinus aren’t just limited to your feet. Gait changes caused by flexibility limitations can put added stress on your knees and hip, possibly putting you at risk for arthritis and the eventual need for a joint replacement procedure.

Diagnosing And Treating Equinus

If you have noticed that your gait seems to be different or you’re dealing with other foot issues listed above, consider setting up an appointment with a foot specialist. Many cases of equinus are diagnosed when people are seeking treatment for related issues, like frequent calf cramps or plantar fasciitis. Oftentimes it can be diagnosed during a physical exam, as your doctor can manipulate your foot in a few different ways to examine your flexibility. X-rays or other imaging tests may be ordered to rule out other problems, but equinus can oftentimes be diagnosed by a trained professional during a physical exam.

Treatment typically focuses on trying to reduce Achilles tendon and calf muscle tightness, so stretching exercises and a physical therapy routine are commonly ordered. Arch supports or orthotic inserts can also help to normalize how stress is dispersed on your foot when walking, and your doctor may even recommend a night splint to help combat tendon tightness while you sleep. Oftentimes a combination of these techniques can provide adequate relief when pursued for a number of weeks.

In rare instances, surgery may be recommended to address equinus if it is not responding to conservative care or a bone formation is inhibiting normal range of motion. Surgery is rarely needed, but it tends to have great results and the risk of complications are minor.

If you believe you’re dealing with equinus, or you just want a foot specialist to help figure out what’s causing discomfort in your foot or ankle, reach out to Dr. McDonald and his team today at (860) 244-8889.

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