Both foot sprains and foot strains are very common injuries, occurring as a result of sports accidents, falls, or other traumas. The difference between the two types of injuries is that sprains affect the ligaments, the thick strands of cartilage attaching one bone to another, and strains affect the muscles or the tendons, thick bands attaching muscle to bone. In both cases, the patient with the injury usually experiences pain (particularly upon movement), swelling, tenderness, bruising, weakness or muscle spasms.
Foot sprains, the more serious injury, may also cause possible instability of the joint, most frequently the ankle. Depending on where on the foot the injury occurs, patients may be unable to bear weight until healing takes place.
Causes of Foot Sprains and Strains
Typically, foot sprains occur in the ankle or midfoot as an abnormal twisting during an athletic event or accident. When a sprain occurs in the big toe, rather than midfoot, it is referred to as turf toe. This injury is the result of an awkward twisting or hyperextension of the affected appendage. Foot strains, on the other hand, happen as the result of a sudden tear or pull of the affected muscle, usually because of overstretching or over contraction.
Diagnosis of Foot Sprains and Strains
Foot sprains and strains are routinely diagnosed through physical examination of the patient and an evaluation of the circumstances of the injury as well as its resulting symptoms. X-rays may also be taken to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other problems, such as bone fractures. When diagnosed, both sprains and strains are graded as I, II or III, depending on severity of injury, pain level and lack of function. For both sprains and strains, the categories are designated mild, moderate and severe.
Treatment of Foot Sprains and Strains
Mild foot sprains and strains can normally be successfully treated through the usual remedies of rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication is typically administered to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. In some circumstances, mild stretching exercises may be helpful.
While severe sprains may require complete immobilization with a cast, with lesser sprains and strains the patient may be able to walk with a bandage or brace, aided by a cane, or may not require any assistance. Most patients heal gradually from mild or moderate sprains in approximately 2 to 8 weeks, depending on the severity of the injury.
In the case of severe sprains or strains, a surgical repair may be necessary, in which case the recovery period may stretch to 3 months. After immobilization for a lesser injury or after surgery for a more severe one, a period of physical rehabilitation is necessary.