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Subtalar joint pain: Why it happens and how to treat it

Subtalar joint pain: Why it happens and how to treat it
3 minutes, 38 seconds

Joint pain can be extremely common among U.S. adults. It can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, including joint overuse and arthritis, in which tissue around the joint becomes damaged.  You can feel joint pain in any joint in your body. While the hips, knees and fingers are some of the most commonly painful joints, joints in your feet can become inflamed as well.  Developing arthritis in your feet can be common, especially since the foot includes 33 individual joints. Those with osteoarthritis often experience pain in their metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP), which connects the big toe and the foot. However, many other conditions can affect joints in your feet. For example, almost 4% of the population over 50 has been diagnosed with subtalar joint pain.  Those with damaged subtalar joints often experience pain on the sides of their feet and near their heel. Other symptoms of subtalar joint pain can include:

  • Consistent pain on the sides of the feet and lower part of the ankle. 
  • Pain that worsens after physical activity. 
  • Difficulty walking. 
  • Limited mobility
  • Swelling. 

Without treatment, a damaged subtalar joint can lead to permanent foot damage. You should seek immediate medical help if you experience increased pain, redness, swelling, bruising or significant difficulty walking. You should also seek medical help if your pain began after a significant injury, or if you are unable to put weight on your foot at all. 

What is the subtalar joint? 

While the term “subtalar joint” may sound complicated, it doesn’t have to be. The subtalar joint connects your heel bone, called the calcaneus, to the bone in the lower part of your ankle, called the talus. It allows you to move your foot from side to side, giving you the ability to pivot your feet and change direction while walking. The subtalar joint also allows you to stay balanced while walking across uneven ground like dirt paths and grass. Without this joint, you could develop frequent ankle sprains caused by constant ankle rolling

Why are you having subtalar joint pain?

Many tendons and ligaments support the subtalar joint. As a result, subtalar joint pain could be caused by damage to these tendons or ligaments. It could also be caused by damage made directly to the joint bones or cartilage, like in cases of osteoarthritis. Subtalar joint pain can lead to instability in your feet and increase your risk of injuries related to slips, trips and falls.  A doctor can properly diagnose your subtalar joint pain and pinpoint why it is occurring. Any of the following reasons could be behind your subtalar joint pain:

  • Sprains — If you tear a ligament connected to your subtalar joint, you could experience pain in the area. Sprains occur when you overstretch or tear your ligament. Tripping and ankle rolling are common causes of sprains.
  • Strains or tendinitis —The tendons that connect your subtalar joint to your muscles can be torn or stretched. When this happens, you can develop a strain, also known as tendinitis.
  • Arthritis — Arthritis is an umbrella term for 100 different types of arthritis, which can cause chronic pain in your joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common and involves the deterioration of cartilage between joints. 
  • Fractures — If you fracture any of the bones connected to your subtalar joint, including the talus bone, you can experience significant joint pain.
  • Bone bruise — Bone bruises can occur when a traumatic injury to a bone causes blood to pool around and between the bone. If you land hard on your foot after running or jumping, or if you drop a heavy object on your foot, the bones around your subtalar joint may be bruised.  

How can you treat subtalar joint pain?

Depending on your symptoms and diagnosis, there are many noninvasive treatments you can use to address your pain and related symptoms. For example, stretches and strengthening exercises found in physical therapy can help reduce your swelling and increase your mobility. You can treat your subtalar joint pain with: 

  • Physical therapy.
  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation).
  • Orthotics. 
  • Pain medication.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for subtalar joint pain

Subtalar joint pain can limit your mobility while walking, running or getting up from a sitting position. At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address joint pain.  Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform.  Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your joint pain.

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