A sprain occurs when there is damage to a ligament. This differs from a strain, which is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Ligaments are tissues that connect bone to bone and support movement by stabilizing the joint. The main job of ligaments is to tighten to prevent a joint from hyperextending or moving in a direction that would cause injury. Several ligaments are found in the foot and ankle, which can become sprained. To hep manage this injury, it is important to understand the common causes of sprains and what steps can be taken to prevent and treat them.
A sprain is diagnosed when a ligament is stretched beyond its capacity and/or develops a partial or complete tear. Sprains can happen anywhere in the body but are most common in the ankle joint, states MayoClinic.com. Sprains are classified into three types. A level one is a minor injury during which the ligament is pulled or stretched too far. A level two or moderate sprain occurs when some of the ligament fibers have torn. A grade three sprain is severe and is diagnosed when there is a complete tear of the ligament.
A foot or ankle sprain results when the foot or ankle twists, rolls in or out or is forced into an abnormal position. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons claims that this can happen while walking on an uneven surface, from landing incorrectly while participating in high impact sports, after a fall or it can be the result of a blow to the foot or ankle. If high arches or flat feet exists or there is a tendency to pronate (roll outward) or supinate (roll inward), the risk for developing a sprain in the ankle or foot rises.
The symptoms experienced with a sprain of the foot and ankle depend on the severity of the sprain. Because a minor sprain left untreated can become more severe, it is important to seek treatment at the first sign of symptoms. The Family Doctor website recommends being on the lookout for foot or ankle pain. The area may be tender to the touch, stiff or show signs of swelling. At first these symptoms may just occur during activity but if left untreated they may eventually be present even at rest. More severe sprains will cause skin discoloration or bruising, and the foot or ankle may feel cold and become numb. With severe sprains it may not be possible to bear weight on the affected foot and ankle, and the pain is usually significant.
Severe sprains may require surgery to repair or reattach the ligament. Minor sprains will often heal on their own in a week or two if the proper steps are taken, states the Aetna InteliHealth website. This includes resting the area and avoiding activities that make symptoms worse until the pain subsides. Using ice and elevating the foot and ankle will help to control any swelling and inflammation. It will be important to return to activities slowly and discontinue or back off activities that cause symptoms to flare up. Moderate sprains may also call for pain and anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections if oral medication is not enough. In some cases wrapping the area, wearing a cast or using crutches may be necessary. Moderate and severe sprains can take months to heal so the best bet is to start treatment early to avoid complications when possible.
After an ankle or foot sprain heals, it is important to take steps to prevent this injury from occurring again. If flat feet, high arches or a tendency to pronate or supinate exists, talking with a podiatrist can help. A podiatrist can evaluate movement patterns as well as the structure of the foot. If necessary inserts or orthodics can be prescribed to help promote better alignment. In addition, the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommends doing exercise to help strengthen and stretch the foot and ankle and improve balance. Stronger and more flexible muscles will be less likely to pull on the ligaments. Improving balance will reduce the risk of falling and twisting the ankle or foot.