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A foot or ankle sprain is an injury that occurs when the ligaments that connect the bones of the leg to the foot are stretched or torn. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that stabilize the joints and prevent excessive movement. A sprain can happen when the foot or ankle is twisted, rolled or turned in an awkward way, such as during sports, walking on uneven surfaces or falling.
Sprains can range from mild to severe, depending on how much damage there is to the ligaments. The symptoms of a sprain may include:
- Pain, especially when bearing weight on the affected foot or ankle.
- Restricted range of motion.
- Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury.
At Home Remedies
Most sprains can be treated at home with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). This can help reduce the pain, swelling and inflammation and promote healing. The RICE method involves:
- Resting the injured foot or ankle and avoiding activities that cause pain or worsen the injury.
- Applying ice packs or cold compresses to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day.
- Wrapping the injured foot or ankle with a bandage or elastic wrap to provide support and compression.
- Elevating the injured foot or ankle above the level of the heart as often as possible to reduce swelling and blood flow.
In addition to RICE, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium or acetaminophen can help ease the discomfort. However, these medications should be used with caution and only as directed by a doctor.
Some sprains may require medical attention and professional care. You should see a doctor if:
- You have severe pain, swelling, bruising or difficulty moving your foot or ankle.
- You heard a popping sound at the time of injury.
- You cannot put any weight on your foot or ankle.
- You have signs of infection such as fever, redness, warmth or pus.
- Your symptoms do not improve after a few days of home treatment.
A doctor will examine your foot or ankle and may order imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, CT scan or ultrasound to rule out fractures or other complications. Depending on the severity and location of your sprain, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Ankle brace, splint, cast or boot to immobilize and protect your foot or ankle while it heals.
- Crutches or a cane to help you walk without putting weight on your injured foot or ankle.
- Physical therapy to restore your foot or ankle’s range of motion, strength, flexibility and stability.
- Surgery to repair or reconstruct a ligament that won’t heal or is severely torn.
The recovery time for a sprain varies depending on the type and severity of the injury. It may take several weeks to months for a sprain to heal completely. To prevent further injury and recurrence of sprains, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and gradually resume your normal activities. You should also take preventive measures such as warming up before exercise, wearing proper footwear, using ankle support devices if needed and maintaining good balance and muscle strength.