Everyone has suffered from a sprain at some point in their lives. Whether it was from partying too hard over the weekends or the result of an overenthusiastic hiker, we have all been there.
Sprains can affect any joint in your body, but given that our foot alone has 33 of them with numerous ligaments, it is no surprise that foot sprains occur frequently.
Here we look at what causes foot sprains and how to handle and prevent them in the future, with additional insight into patients’ common queries about a sprained foot.
What Is a Foot Sprain?
A sprain is essentially a result of a tear or overstretching of a ligament, which is a tissue that connects two bones. Since there are many ligaments, bones, and joints in the foot, there is a significant risk of sprain following injury.
Medically, a sprain is graded into three categories based on the level of damage:
- Grade I: Tiny tears in the ligament which cause a minor sprain.
- Grade II: Large tears cause a moderate sprain.
- Grade III: Torn or ligament detachment leads to a severe sprain.
The plantar fascia is a ligament that extends from your heel to toe and is one of the most typical sites of a sprain.
How Do You Determine Whether You Have a Fracture, Sprain, or Strain?
Fracture, Sprain, and strain have similar symptoms and are often used interchangeably. However, there are significant differences to help you distinguish between the three.
A fracture of the top of the foot can cause excruciating, unbearable pain and deformity. In addition, you may experience bruising and be unable to walk or bear weight on foot.
On the other hand, sprains and strains have milder symptoms. A strain involves the injury of tissue that connects muscle to bone. In both cases, there is pain but less intensity than a fracture. You may also suffer from cramps, numbness, and difficulty walking.
At the end of the day, a podiatrist or foot specialist is your best bet for diagnosing your injury. If you live in or near Georgia, search for a qualified Podiatrist in Marietta, GA to diagnose your injury for proper treatments. They are well-experienced in detecting severe injuries early on and treat accordingly to speed up your recovery.
Foot Sprain Causes
Most foot sprain results from excessive stress on a ligament. This is often due to awkward landing after a high jump or stumbling on uneven ground. There are over a hundred ligaments in your foot. However, only three are most susceptible to strain.
- Anterior talofibular ligament: This ligament connects the lower end of the fibula to the talus and is the commonest cause of ankle sprain. This results from gravity shifting outside your leg and causing your ankle to roll inward.
- Lisfranc ligament: This ligament connects the cuneiform bones to the second and third metatarsals located in the midfoot. Injury results from twisting and cutting motions while the foot is placed on the ground.
- Collateral ligaments: This help connects the first metatarsal to the phalanx. Stretch or tear of the ligament causes injury to the big toe and is most commonly seen in NFL players when they play on artificial turf giving the sprain its common name, turf toe.
What to Expect/Foot Sprain Symptoms
Symptoms of foot sprain vary depending on the severity of the condition. Most people are aware of the commonest one, which includes pain, tenderness, swelling, and limping from being unable to bear weight.
You may be asked to undergo an X-ray by your healthcare provider to determine the extent of your damage.
Diagnosing a Foot Sprain
Your doctor or healthcare provider will conduct a physical examination to decide whether or not you have a sprain, strain, or fracture. They will consider the pain’s intensity, the injured spot, and swelling.
In addition, you may be required to take some imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to rule out fractures or nerve compressions.
Foot Sprain Treatment
Fortunately, a foot sprain does not require extensive treatment and heals well. Nonetheless, there are many things that you can do to speed up the healing process. The most well-known way is probably the rice method:
- Rest- Keep the affected foot immobile. Avoid any kind of activity that may cause pain or discomfort.
- Ice- Apply a cold compress for about 20 minutes every 2-3 hours during the initial days of recovery. Avoid applying ice directly over the foot.
- Compression- Keep the swelling down by wrapping it in a crepe bandage.
- Elevate- The affected foot must be raised above the level of the heart with the help of a pillow or otherwise to reduce the swelling.
Other Foot Sprain Care
This includes taking pain medications such as over-the-counter ones like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). However, consult your healthcare provider before taking any pain medication if you have any comorbidities like heart disease, hypertension, or bleeding disorders.
If you are unable to walk at all, you may request crutches. In case of severe pain, you may be prescribed to wear a splint, braces, or boots to keep your foot stationary.
Once the pain and swelling have subsided, it is important to gradually resume light activity to return to normal function. Your doctor may instruct you on stretches that will alleviate the stiffness and soreness of your foot.
Ways To Care for Yourself at Home
If you are at home, the R.I.C.E method is enough to ease the symptoms. Additionally, you should avoid hot baths, hot showers, or hot tubs for the first 2-3 days. Once the swelling subsides, you can apply heating pads or a hot compress with a warm cloth.
As you improve, start light exercises and slowly return to your routine as you start feeling better.
Preventing a Foot Sprain
A sprain is often the result of preventable circumstances. Here are some methods to reduce the risk of a strain.
- Build up flexibility & strength of your foot to reduce the likelihood of torn tendons especially if you are joining a gym or an amateur sports team.
- Being overweight has serious health implications and also increases the risk of sprains so work out regularly to maintain a healthy BMI.
- Proper shoe support is essential to prevent injury. Wear appropriate shoes for designated activities.
- Stretching before working out or any strenuous task makes the ligament elastic and reduces the risk of strain.
- Walk and run carefully especially if you are in a rocky environment. Most sprains result from people who aren’t mindful of their surroundings when walking.
- Sprains are recurrent so if you have a history of sprains, it is best to be cautious and wear braces or avoid heavy-duty activity.
- Listen to your body when it is in pain and take rest. Overworking your muscles can lead to severe pain and result in a sprain.
When Should You See an Orthopedic Doctor?
Severe injuries with extreme pain may indicate an emergency and require swift medical attention. Milder cases can be managed at home. Be sure to look out for the following signs to take immediate medical supervision:
- Severe, frequent episodes of pain or if the pain is worsening with time.
- Tightening of the splint or wrap
- Toes becoming pale or changing color
- No improvement of swelling after 3-5 days of injury
- Tingling, weakness, or numbness in the affected foot
- Redness in the groin or leg or severe pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin. These are signs of a blood clot.
- If you develop a fever
- Inability to put any weight on your foot
Be on the lookout for these signs and report instantly if you suffer from even one of these signs. Clearly communicating your symptoms with the doctor is vital for the best patient outcome.
Can You Walk on a Sprained or Strained Foot?
Although you may be able to walk or bear weight in certain cases of sprain or strain, it is generally advisable to refrain from walking until the swelling subsides. This is because the added stress can impede the healing process.
However, in the case of a complete tear, you may be unable to walk or bear weight at all.
Sprains are a common issue and patients usually recover well without much intervention. However, it is important to exercise caution to avoid repeated injury and use the R.I.C.E method if they suffer from a sprained foot.
Be wary of the warning signs and seek immediate medical attention in case you find something wrong. The road to recovery may be long in some cases but rest assured, you can resume your daily activities after you have healed.
Here are some of the commonest queries patients have regarding a sprained foot.
What Type of Physical Therapy Is Needed for a Sprain?
The need for physical therapy is case-dependent. Basic joint movements and simple exercises are enough in most cases. However, treatment can be useful for regaining muscle strength and improving the range of mobility. It can also help alleviate muscle stiffness and weakness as you recover from the sprain.
How Long Does It Take for a Sprained Foot to Recover?
The recovery time can vary depending on the severity of your sprain, so it is essential to be patient while you heal. Unnecessary stress on the affected foot too soon before complete recovery can do more harm than good.
Grade I-II sprains usually take about 4-8 weeks to heal. Grade III sprains or cases with splints or casts can take longer. Some patients may require surgery to reduce the bones and realign the ligaments, with the recovery period taking about 6-8 months before you can walk normally again.
When to Come For Follow-up?
Simple sprains usually require no follow-up visits, but in severe sprains, your doctor recommends additional follow-ups to monitor your recovery progress in severe sprains.