Foot sprains of the ankle ligaments are common, with about 25,000 occurring each day, according to the the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sprains usually result from the ankle turning inward. Tears in ligaments are known as sprains, while tears in muscle are called strains. Tears can be partial or complete, and are graded as minimal, or first-degree; moderate to severe, or second-degree; or complete, or third-degree. While first-degree and second-degree tears normally heal by themselves with simple measures, third-degree tears may require more complex medical care and treatment.
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RICE and Analgesics
The initial treatment for foot sprains consists of the RICE treatment, or rest, ice, compression and elevation. RICE treatments aim to reduce swelling at the injury site. Staying off and elevating the foot, applying ice to the extremity around the injury and wrapping the foot in ace bandaging decrease swelling. Analgesics such as anti- inflammatory medications not only help with pain, but also reduce inflammation and swelling.
For first degree injuries, treatment may consist of just RICE and analgesics , with weight bearing resuming after a few days. Elevate the foot above the heart level for 48 hours, and apply ice for 20 to 30 minutes at a time three to four times a day, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends.
Splinting or Casting
While RICE techniques also help second-degree and third-degree foot sprains, immobilization with a splint or cast may be required to prevent re-injury. Casting third-degree or complete tears for two to three weeks allows the torn areas to mend.
Physical therapy helps hasten healing by strengthening the injured ligament gradually. Range of motion without resistance to gently stretch the ligament may be followed by resistance based exercise to strengthen the ligament. Ultrasound and electrical stimulation can decrease pain and swelling.
Developing proprioception--the ability to sense where the different parts of the body are--helps to prevent further injury, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons stresses. Balancing exercises help develop proprioception. Ankle sprains not properly treated may occur in as many as 40 to 70 percent of cases, according to the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois.
Ligament tears in the foot rarely require surgery, but lasting instability months after the original injury may require one of two types of surgery: arthroscopy or reconstruction. Arthroscopy examines the joint for loose pieces of bone or cartilage, and to see if part of the ligament is trapped in the joint. Reconstruction repairs the torn ligament by sewing the damaged ends back together or using other ligaments or tendons to repair it.