Ever pivot your body, but your foot stays in place? Ouch — that's the making of a torn ligament in your foot, also known as a sprained foot. Knowing how to treat a torn ligament can help you heal safely and get back to your regular activities.
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Ligament damage in your foot often happens when your ankle turns inward after a wonky landing while running or jumping, pulling the ligaments on the outside of your foot, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
High-impact falls or tripping over a flexed foot can injure ligaments around your Lisfranc joint — a midfoot sprain, per the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). You can also get a torn ligament in your big toe if you bend it too far, a type of foot sprain called "turf toe," per the Cleveland Clinic.
These injuries differ from tears in your muscle, which are called strains, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Treatment for a sprained foot often includes rest, compression, ice and elevation, according to University of Michigan Health. Once the ligament starts to heal, you may have to do specific stretches and exercises to re-strengthen the area.
Sprained Foot Symptoms
You may hear or feel a tear or pop when you injure your foot, according to the Mayo Clinic. After that, you'll typically experience immediate pain and these other common symptoms, per the Cleveland Clinic and U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM):
- Pain or tenderness
- Difficulty walking
- Inability to bear weight on the injured foot
- Limited range of motion in the joint
- Feeling of a loose joint
How Long Does a Sprained Foot Take to Heal?
Foot sprains and their approximate recovery time are graded based on the severity of the ligament tear, according to the NLM:
- Grade I, minor: You have small tears in your ligaments, which typically heal themselves with simple measures in a few weeks.
- Grade II, moderate: You have larger, partial tears in the ligaments that may require some medical care. These sprains can take about a month to heal.
- Grade III, severe: Your ligaments are completely torn or detached from the bone, and typically require complex medical care and treatment over the course of several months.
How to Treat Foot Sprains
Though foot sprain care may vary based on severity, here are some of the best treatments for torn ligaments.
RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation — is your best bet for immediate sprained foot treatment, according to University of Michigan Health. This four-step process can help reduce pain and swelling while promoting healing and mobility:
- Rest: Take a break from physical activity or weight-bearing movements. Your doctor may also recommend crutches to help protect your sprained foot.
- Ice: Apply a cloth-covered ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables to the injury for 10 to 20 minutes at a time at least three times per day.
- Compression: Compress your injured foot by wrapping it with an elastic bandage to decrease swelling.
- Elevation: Elevate your foot above heart level whenever you're sitting, lying down or icing the injury.
How to Wrap a Sprained Foot
Use an elastic (like an ACE bandage) to snugly wrap the injured area, starting at the point closest to your toes and working your way upwards, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Bandaging it too tightly can restrict blood flow, though, so if your foot throbs, hurts or feels tingly and numb, loosen the sprain wrap.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling during your foot sprain recovery, per University of Michigan Health. Just be sure to follow the instructions on the label to take them safely.
3. Splinting or Casting
While RICE can help with any sprain, moderate or severe injuries may also require immobilization with a splint, brace, cast or sports tape to provide support and protection while your ligament heals, according to the AAOS.
However, only use these supports as long as your doctor advises and focus on strengthening your sprained foot once they deem it safe. After all, the best "brace" is strong, recovered muscles and connective tissue in the injured area, per the Mayo Clinic.
4. Surgery for Full Tears
A torn ligament in your foot rarely requires surgery. But if you have lasting instability months after the original injury or the sprain didn't respond much to other treatments, you may require one of two types of surgery, per the AAOS:
- Arthroscopy: This surgery examines the joint for loose pieces of bone or cartilage and to see if part of the ligament is trapped in the joint. Your doctor can smooth frayed areas and remove small pieces of bone or cartilage during this procedure.
- Reconstruction: During this surgery, your doctor can repair the torn ligament by sewing the damaged ends back together or rebuilding it with other ligaments or tendons.
You'll typically also need physical therapy for weeks or months after surgery to restore strength, mobility and function to the damaged area, according to the AAOS.
5. Physical Therapy Interventions
Whether or not you require surgery for your torn ligament, physical therapy can help you heal by restoring strength and mobility and preventing long-term problems, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Per the AAOS, common physical therapy techniques and foot sprain exercises include:
- Stretching: Avoid stiffness and build range of motion to counteract a torn or strained ligament in your foot with simple movements and stretches, like pointing and flexing your foot.
- Balance training: Prevent joint instability and future injury by building your proprioception, or the ability to sense the location of different parts of your body. Balancing exercises like standing on one foot with your eyes closed can help.
- Strength training: Rebuild the affected muscles, tendons and ligaments with strengthening moves like calf raises.
- Endurance and agility training: Once it's safe, endurance and agility exercises like running drills can help you make a full recovery.
Remember to wear supportive shoes for your sprained foot or toe as you reintroduce activity into your routine, per Mount Sinai. Unsupportive shoes like flip-flops or going barefoot could aggravate your injury.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Sprained Ankle"
- Mayo Clinic: "Sprains"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Foot sprain - aftercare"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Turf toe"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Sprains of the Ankle, Knee and Wrist"
- University of Michigan Health: "Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE)"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Lisfranc (Midfoot) Injury"
- Mount Sinai: "Foot sprain - aftercare"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.