Sprained foot is a common injury which occurs on a daily basis to thousands of individuals. Foot sprains can occur in all people at all ages. It may happen while walking, running, jumping or in any sports related activity. It is most common when one steps on an uneven surface and twists or bends the ankle excessively. In a sprained foot it is the ligaments which are damaged or torn. Ligaments are strong fibrous structures which hold bone together. These structures do not have great elasticity and are often damaged when there is forceful bending or twisting of the ankle joint. In most cases of sprain injury, the ligaments develop small tears which heal. In severe injuries, the ligament may rupture and create a very “loose” ankle.
Sprains of the foot can be graded but this is only of academic interest. The initial treatment of all sprains is the same. When a foot sprain occurs, the pain is immediate. Most individuals also develop swelling and bruising around the ankle. If the injury is severe, one may not be able to walk or the ankle joint may seem unstable.
The diagnosis of a sprained foot is straightforward but most physicians will obtain a foot x ray to ensure that there is no bone fracture. In rare cases, an MRI is obtained which can decipher soft tissue injury much better.
The treatment of sprained foot is the same in all cases. The foot has to be rested and this means no walking for the first 24-48 hours. One should immediately apply ice every 20-30 minutes several times a day for the first 48 hours. Ice does not make any difference when applied 2 days after the injury. One can even apply a compression bandage to the ankle which will help bring stability to the ankle, reduce swelling and decrease sensation of pain. When at rest, it is highly recommended that the foot is elevated on a pillow. Individuals who have moderate to severe injury of the foot may need a crutch to ambulate. If there is pain, one can take any one of the non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs like Motrin or Advil.
When the swelling and pain have subsided, physical therapy is encouraged. Foot exercises do help improve range of motion and increase muscle strength. Other methods to help reduce pain include ultrasound massages and electrical stimulation. However, the latter two modalities are best reserved for the professional athlete as these techniques are expensive and time consuming. Walking in the swimming pool is another great way to regain foot function. Most mild cases of injury recover in 1-2 weeks. Moderate injuries may take 4-6 weeks or longer.
All consumers should understand that surgery is always the last option for foot sprains. Surgery is only done after conservative methods have not worked and there is evidence of a complete ligament tear. Always seek a second opinion if you are offered surgery as a first choice remedy for a sprained foot.
The best way to avoid foot injury is to pay attention to where you walk, wear decent shoes and warm up prior to any exercise. Finally athletes should wear pads to protect themselves from developing a sprained foot.