For the first time ever, Special Olympics Wisconsin offered its Fit Feet program at a local sports event when it was featured at the Regional Basketball Tournament in Mequon on March 5.
As part of Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Healthy Athletes initiative, Fit Feet has been offered at state tournaments for over 10 years. It has also been offered previously at Young Athletes events or as a standalone clinic. However, thanks to this recent new offering 85 athletes who were participating in the regional basketball tournament earlier this month were screened for potential issues related to feet, ankles, biomechanics and proper footwear by podiatrists, podiatry residents and students in both podiatry and physical therapy. This was also the first time physical therapy students were used for a Fit Feet event.
Many athletes suffer from untreated foot or ankle ailments that can hold them back in sports and even affect their quality of life. In fact, up to 50% of Special Olympics athletes experience one or more preventable or treatable foot conditions.
“These screenings provide valuable information that can significantly help athletes on and off the court. It can be something as simple as correct shoe size, up to evaluating ligament and tendon injuries. At this event, there was even a team where three of the seven players were wearing shoes that were at least 2 sizes too small, unbeknownst to their coach,” said Dr. Brant McCartan, the clinical director for Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Fit Feet program.
One major benefit to offering Fit Feet at a regional event is that many more family members were in attendance than there are at state tournaments, which are often far from athletes’ homes. Family members and caregivers were able to directly discuss athletes’ conditions with podiatrists as opposed to hearing about them second-hand from the coaches who travel to state tournaments.
Another benefit is the added opportunity for students of podiatry and now even physical therapy to gain additional real-world experience treating patients. “The athletes that weekend generously gave their time and their feet to help these students learn how to perform correct clinical and biomechanical examinations – which is invaluable! I think Fit Feet really is a win-win situation from both a public health and clinical standpoint,” Dr. McCartan said.
The addition of the physical therapy students also turned out to be a great interdisciplinary experience for the medical team and athletes alike as the PT students brought their own discipline’s approach to the exam table while they learned a great deal from their podiatry counterparts.
Fit Feet is one of seven disciplines in Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Healthy Athletes initiative. It was developed in collaboration with the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM) and the Federation of International Podiatrists (FIP).
The next Fit Feet event will be held August 5 at Carrol University in Waukesha for the Outdoor Sports Tournament. One great feature of Fit Feet and the other events of Healthy Athletes is that any athlete who has a current medical on file with Special Olympics Wisconsin can get a free exam, even if they’re not participating in the sporting event where Healthy Athletes is being offered.