Foot Conditions A-Z
A sprain is a torn or stretched ligament. Ligaments connect the bones that make up joints. Sprains are caused by falling, twisting and hard blows. Ankle sprains often occur in sports and activities that involve running and jumping--an awkward landing, in which weight comes down on one side of the foot (inside or outside), can lead to a sprain. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising and being unable to move the joint. Sometimes a pop or tear can be felt when the injury occurs. Ankle sprains are a common injury; according to the 2012 National Foot Health Assessment conducted by the NPD Group for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, 31 percent of adults in the U.S. (about 69 million people) have suffered an ankle sprain at some point in their lives.
Symptoms of a sprain may include the following:
- Sharp pain in the area of the sprain.
- Swelling in the injured area.
- Limited ability to move the joint without pain.
- A “pop” sensation in the joint when the injury occurs.
Sprains can be caused by the following:
- Trauma, twisting or overextension of the foot and ankle. These are common in many sports and activities. When the foot “turns over,” a sprain is the common result; this happens fairly frequently in court sports, especially basketball and tennis, as well as in turf sports such as soccer, football, lacrosse and field hockey.
- Walking and running on uneven surfaces.
- Any movement that suddenly places the joint in an unnatural position. Most frequently, sprain injuries occur in the ankles; other common locations include the wrists, fingers (primarily the thumbs) and knees.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to avoid ankle and knee sprains is to be in good physical condition, with good lower limb strength, and to ensure sufficient warm-up and cool down exercise prior to and/or after working out.
Other preventive strategies include the following:
- Walk or run on even surfaces. If you walk or run on uneven surfaces, pay attention to the path and move at a pace that allows you to keep an eye on changes in the terrain.
- Avoid aggressive sports and activities for which you have not trained properly.
- Make sure that you are using appropriate footwear for the sport or activity. IPFH suggests that you wear only properly selected and fitted, as part of an integrated approach, padded socks with shoes (no high heels) with non-slip outsoles and any inserts or orthotics prescribed or recommended by a doctor or foot health professional. Peer-reviewed, published studies have shown that wearing clinically tested padded socks can help protect against injuries to the skin/soft tissue of the foot due to impact, pressure and shear forces.
Treatment of a sprain typically involves resting the injured area, icing it, wearing a bandage or device that compresses the area, and elevating it (“RICE”). Subsequent treatment might include anti-inflammatory medication, exercise and physical therapy. Avoid putting pressure on a sprained area until pain and swelling begin to subside.
See your doctor if you suspect a sprain. Sometimes a fracture can occur simultaneously with a sprain, so your doctor may do X-rays or other imaging of the affected area. Be aware that a joint may become dislocated along with a sprain; if a joint looks seriously misshapen or out of place, see a doctor immediately. If pain and swelling don’t diminish after several days of self-medication (“RICE”), see your doctor. Also talk to your doctor if you have soreness, pain, redness, swelling or other indications of foot problems that persist for more than a few days.