The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Foot Pain? You Might Have a Sprain

Posted by on Friday, September 21st, 2012

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If foot and ankle injuries were in high school, sprained ankles would be the most popular kids–not because there are so many of them, but because they get so much attention. Sprained feet, on the other hand, would be the quiet kid no one notices and no one remembers when he or she show up at the reunion.

But just as that kid does indeed exist and has a right to be noticed, so do our foot sprain friends. So let’s talk foot sprains!

What’s a foot sprain? Good question! But I think it’s helpful to start just by answering the question, “What’s a sprain?”

What’s a sprain? Great question, thanks! A sprain occurs when the ligaments around a joint are overstretched, resulting in tiny tears in the ligament. This usually happens when too much force is put on the joint, like when you take a bad step off a curb and end up landing on the side of your foot, bending your ankle sharply downward (sorry, had to use ankle sprains as an example because they’re the popular kid everyone knows).

Now what’s a foot sprain? As you would expect, it’s a sprain to any of the ligaments connecting the joints in the foot. There are thirty-three joints in the foot and one hundred ligaments, so you would think that the possibilities for damage are endless.

Then why don’t we hear about foot sprains more than ankle sprains? You just don’t bend and twist your foot on an every day basis the same way you do your ankle. To sprain your foot, you need to do a really specific type of twisting, bending motion, usually while putting weight on your foot. For example, it could happen during an awkward landing from a jump, such as a gymnast not executing a landing off a piece of equipment (or falling off a piece of equipment), or a sudden change in direction while running, like a football player trying to make a cut too quickly. It also could come from direct impact in a collision sport like football. Windsurfers are also likely to suffer sprained feet; their feet are strapped onto their boards, so their bodies can suddenly shift forward or to the side while their feet remain stationary, causing a twist that damages ligaments.

How do I know I have a sprained foot? I sure know when I have a sprained ankle. You’ll usually feel pain right after the event that caused the sprain, although sometimes you might not really feel it–I mean like, “Hey, this is more than a momentary blip on the pain radar”–until a few hours later, after the injury has had time to swell and stiffen more. Most sprains will be felt on the top or sides of the midfoot area. You’ll feel an increase in pain when you do activities that put pressure on the joint, such as walking up a hill, on uneven surfaces, or while running, jumping, kicking, or standing on your toes. The best way to confirm that your foot is sprained is to have it examined by a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900).

So let’s say I have a sprained foot. Now what? How do I make it better? You should ice the injured area as soon as possible to bring down the swelling. Then wrap it in a compression bandage and keep it elevated. Rest from any activities that cause pain in your foot until your foot stops hurting; this may even require a walking boot or time on crutches. The important thing is to try to take care of the injury right away. It’s like trying to crawl out of debt–the longer you leave it, the worse it will get.

As soon as the pain is manageable, you should start doing some exercises to help keep the foot from becoming stiff or weak. Your podiatrist can give you a set of exercises to do or refer you to a physical therapist. Depending on the severity of the sprain, it can take anywhere from two to six weeks to completely return to normal activity. Finally, if your podiatrist feels that some kind of biomechanical issue in your foot contributed to the sprain, he or she may suggest orthotics to provide extra support and stability for the future.

There you go, then, the oft-ignored sprained foot finally gets its moment in the injury spotlight! A sprained foot may not be as common as a sprained ankle, but when it happens, it’s just as annoying. Be careful of your feet and pay attention when they hurt!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.