Sprains and strains are among the most common foot injuries. Though both the conditions are different, the terms are used interchangeably by many. While a strain is an injury caused to a muscle, tendon or other soft tissues, a sprain is the damage caused to ligaments. A sprain may result in overstretching of ligaments that may rupture partially or completely (a ligament is a strong, elastic tissue that connects the bones with each other). A sprain could be mild, moderate or severe. The severity of the condition is based on factors like the location of the injury, number of ligaments involved and the extent of damage to them. The mode of treatment is decided on the basis of the nature and severity of the condition.
Foot Sprain Types
So, a foot sprain is the damage caused to the ligaments of the foot. Sprains develop when the ligaments are stretched or overextended beyond their limit. This may happen as a result of repetitive overuse and stretching of the ligaments or when they are forcefully twisted all of a sudden. Foot sprains due to repetitive strain on ligaments are usually seen in athletes, gymnasts, ballet dancers and football players. Specific incidents like slipping and falling, twisting the leg while walking or running, etc. may also cause sprained foot.
As far as foot sprains are concerned, ankle sprains are very common. Midfoot (area that includes the arch of the foot) is also prone to develop this type of injury. A sprain of the joint at the base of the big toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint) is also not uncommon. Otherwise known as turf toe, this condition is mainly seen in football players. Minor or grade I sprains result in overstretching or minute tear of the ligaments. Moderate or Grade II sprains are characterized by partially torn ligaments. When the ligaments are torn completely and movement of the affected foot becomes difficult, the condition is called Severe or Grade III sprain.
What is the Treatment?
One of the most prominent symptoms of a sprain is sharp and intense pain that may even stall movement of the affected foot. Sprained foot symptoms may also include bruising and swelling of the affected area. The condition is diagnosed through physical examination of the area and by studying the symptoms. If the pain is unbearable with considerable swelling and inability to walk, then an X-ray of the sprained foot may also be suggested, so as to rule out the possibility of bone fracture. In some cases, especially for those with serious foot sprains, MRI or CT scan may be suggested to get a clear picture of the damage to the soft tissues.
- First of all, rest the affected foot and avoid any activity that involves that foot.
- Apply ice packs over the affected area for at least six to seven times a day. Each session should not be more than 20 minutes. This will reduce the swelling and pain.
- Provide support to the affected joint with an elastic bandage or dressings. This type of compression will also help reduce swelling. Ensure that the bandage is not too tight to affect blood circulation to the foot.
- It will be better to keep your affected foot elevated (from the rest of your body). This is also believed to be beneficial for reducing swelling.
Though minor sprains heal with proper rest and home-care, it is always better to consult your doctor and get the condition diagnosed. Otherwise, seek medical attention in case of severe pain and/or excessive swelling or bruising. This is also applicable to those who develop hematoma (swelling with blood clotting) on the affected foot. Medical attention must be sought, if the pain and swelling do not reduce within a couple of days or if walking becomes difficult. Apart from the above said first aid, the conventional treatment methods are as follows.
- In most cases, doctors prescribe NSAIDs to reduce pain and swelling. Ultrasound stimulation is another technique used for this purpose.
- For moderate to severe foot sprains, splints, casts or immobilization boots may be required.
- Surgery is preferred to other types of sprained foot treatment, in some severe cases with complete ligament tear.
Foot sprain recovery is mainly dependent on factors like the nature and severity of the damage. So recovery time may vary with individual conditions. In case of moderate to severe foot sprains, normal activities can be resumed gradually, once the symptoms subside. You may also be required to start some rehabilitation program, so that the injury heals properly. It usually takes around 2 to 6 weeks for healing mild sprains. Sprained foot recovery time for moderate and severe cases (grade II and III sprains) is around eight to ten weeks. In case of surgery, four to six months may be needed for complete recovery.
In short, timely sprained foot treatment can help in speedy recovery. If swelling and pain persist even after one to two weeks of treatment, you have to consult your doctor. The same should be done, if other symptoms worsen or you experience numbness or coldness in the area. In case of surgery too, complications like bleeding and infection may occur. In such cases too, seek immediate medical attention.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.