We are now back into the fall sports season, and all athletes are in full gear. Regardless of whether an athlete competes in football, cross country, marathon training, soccer, field hockey -- or whatever the activity of choice -- all athletes must be trained for their respective sports.

We must consider that different sports vary in their demands on speed, endurance, strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. Most sports require excessive stress on the body's joints, especially the feet. They are our foundation, and feet can contribute to ankle, knee and lower back problems.

A large number of athletes encounter problems when playing on a field of natural grass, particularly if the athlete has a flat or low-arch foot, which is mechanically weak. However, when playing on artificial turf, the most common complaint is turf toe, which is an acute, traumatic bursitis of the first toe-metatarsal joint associated with tendonitis.

Most athletes should recognize their body's pain signals. With that in mind, parents and coaches should recognize early symptoms as well, and if they persist, the athletes should seek treatment. Stretching every day, especially before the event or exercise, will help make you more flexible and less prone to injury. This should help give you the edge on your competition.

Dr. Robert Weiss lives in Westport and has a sports-podiatry practice in Darien. He is a former marathon runner and was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trials.