Sprains and Strains

Institutes & Services > TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute

We spend a lot of life on our feet, so it’s not surprising that strains and sprains frequently affect the ankles and, less often, the feet. Severe injuries may make walking impossible and require medical care. TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute specialists offer expert treatment for foot and ankle sprains and strains to help you heal quickly.

Foot and Ankle Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains feel similar, but they are different types of injuries. A sprain stretches or tears the ligaments, which are the bands of tissue that connect two bones. A strain damages a muscle or a tendon, which is the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone.

Ankle sprains are the most common type of sprain, while foot sprains and strains happen far less often. Foot sprains usually are related to sport injuries and affect the middle of the foot or the big toe. Sprains of the big toe (commonly called "turf toe") occur when the toe is bent too far backwards and are most often seen among football and soccer players.

Sprains and strains can range from mild to severe. Doctors describe them in three grades according to the amount of damage to the ligament, tendon or muscle fibers:

  • Grade 1: Stretching or microscopic tears
  • Grade 2: Significant damage or tears
  • Grade 3: Complete rupture

Foot and ankle sprain and strain causes

Sprains and strains of the ankle or foot happen as a result of excessive force, usually when the foot is turned inward (inverted). Common causes include:

  • Falling
  • Landing unevenly from a jump
  • Severe impact
  • Twisting or rolling the ankle, often on uneven surfaces

Foot and ankle sprain and strain symptoms

Ankle and foot sprains and strains have similar symptoms:

  • Bruising that develops soon after the injury
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling around the injured area

See your doctor if you have:

  • Difficulty walking or unable to walk
  • Inability to put weight on the ankle or foot
  • Limited ability to move the affected area
  • No improvement within 5-7 days
  • Uncontrollable pain

Foot and ankle sprain and strain treatment

Most mild foot and ankle sprains and strains can be treated at home. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications such as ibuprofen can help relieve pain and swelling. You can also help promote healing by following R.I.C.E.:

  • Rest—rest the injured foot or ankle; wear a brace or splint if needed.
  • Ice—apply ice packs to the area immediately after the injury and several times a day to help control swelling. Avoid applying ice packs directly to the skin; wrap it in a towel or use a covered ice pack.
  • Compression—wrap the injured area with an elastic wrap or stabilizing brace to help reduce swelling and support the joint.
  • Elevation—try to keep the injured foot or ankle above your heart by sitting in a reclining chair or propping it up with pillows.

Mild sprains generally take 2 to 4 weeks to heal. Moderate sprains may take 6 to 8 weeks.

More serious injuries may require medical care. TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute specialists diagnose the severity of foot and ankle sprains and determine the best treatment. Your doctor will likely recommend anti-inflammatory medications and functional physical therapy to help you regain strength and range of motion in your foot or ankle.

If your injury is severe, your doctor may apply a brace or cast to immobilize the area until it has healed enough to begin therapy. Crutches or a knee scooter can help you get around without putting weight on your injury.

Ruptured tendons or ligaments may require surgery.

Foot and ankle sprain and strain risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of spraining or straining your foot or ankle include:

  • Activities that involve running, jumping or sudden changes in movement
  • Improper footwear
  • Loose ligaments
  • Past ankle sprain or fracture
  • Walking or running on uneven surfaces

Foot and ankle sprain and strain prevention

You can help reduce your risk of spraining or straining your foot or ankle by taking these precautions:

  • Be careful during activities that involve running or jumping
  • Minimize walking or running on uneven or slippery surfaces
  • Strengthen your ankle muscles
  • Wear proper footwear

Make an appointment

Learn more about foot and ankle sprains and strains or make an appointment with a TriHealth orthopedic specialist. Call 513 246 7846.

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