What to Know About a Foot Sprain

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 12, 2022
4 min read

Sprained ankles are common and well-known, but you should keep in mind that you can sprain any joint in your body. Your foot contains 33 joints and a number of ligaments that you can sprain, so a foot sprain may affect you if you do not take appropriate precautions. 

A sprain occurs when you stretch or tear a ligament, the tissue in your joints that connects two bones. Your foot is packed with bones, joints, and ligaments, so there are plenty of places where a sprain might occur.

There are three categories of sprains assigned based on the severity of the injury. They are:

  • Grade I. A minor sprain caused by tiny tears in your ligament
  • Grade II. A moderate sprain caused by large tears in your ligament 
  • Grade III. A severe sprain caused by a torn or detached ligament

One of the most common ligament injuries in the foot is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a strain of the ligament that runs across the bottom of your foot to your heel. 

Foot sprain vs. strain. Sprains and strains are closely related. If you strain your foot, you injure the tissue that connects your muscles to the bone.

Many of the same symptoms appear whether you have a foot sprain or strain. In either case, your doctor will diagnose your injury and determine if you need specialized treatment.

Foot Sprain Causes

You can tear a ligament by suddenly moving in a way that puts stress on your ligament. For example, landing clumsily after a jump or stumbling on rocks can twist and tear the ligaments in your foot.

Symptoms vary depending on the degree of the sprain. Most people with a foot sprain experience pain, tenderness, bruising, and swelling in their foot. The symptoms typically originate at the site of the sprain, so if the torn ligament is near the side of your foot rather than the arch, the symptoms will be more noticeable on the side. 

You may have trouble putting weight on the affected foot, which will cause limping.

Most doctors can diagnose a foot sprain with a physical examination. They’ll consider:

  • The swelling of the foot
  • The location of the pain
  • The intensity of the pain

Your doctor may also suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the sprain’s severity. These imaging tests can help them rule out fractures or other injuries.

You don’t typically need invasive treatment for a foot sprain. Surgery is required only in rare cases.

Most foot sprains can be treated easily at home using the R.I.C.E. injury treatment method:

  • Rest: Don’t do anything that may be painful or uncomfortable. 
  • Ice: Ice your foot for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for the first few days of your recovery.
  • Compression: Wrap your foot with an elastic bandage to alleviate the swelling. 
  • Elevate: Raise your foot so that it’s higher than your heart to reduce swelling. 

Other Foot Sprain Care

Medications. You can take anti-inflammatory pain relievers to manage pain and swelling. Ask your doctor which over-the-counter pain relievers are best for you based on your health history and other medications.

Use crutches. If you can’t put weight on your foot, your doctor may recommend crutches. 

Splint or boot. If you have a severe sprain, your doctor may suggest a brace, splint, or boot to keep the foot stationary. 

Stretches. Once you’ve managed the pain and swelling, you should start using your foot gradually. Your doctor can recommend stretches that will help you return to light activity and alleviate the stiffness of your foot.

Foot sprains almost always heal on their own, but it takes time. The severity of the sprain determines how long it takes to recover. 

  • Grade I sprains may take 2 to 4 weeks to heal.
  • Grade II sprains can take 6 to 8 weeks to heal and may require additional treatments like a splint.
  • Grade III sprains can take 6 to 8 months to heal and fully restore function to the foot. 

Build strength and flexibility. If you’re joining an amateur sports team or starting a new workout routine, make sure you’re ready. Build up the strength and flexibility of your feet so that you don’t tear the tendons in your foot.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts you at risk of hurting your feet and ankles. Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the stress placed on your feet.

Wear appropriate footwear. Wear the appropriate shoes for each activity. For example, wear cleats when you play soccer, but not on a basketball court. 

Everyone has a unique foot shape. Your shoes should support your foot when you stand, walk, and run. You’ll wear out the shoes over time, so make sure to replace them when needed.

Warm up and stretch. Stretching before an activity can prevent many injuries like sprains and strains. Stretching can make your ligaments more elastic and resistant to tearing.

Be cautious of your environment. Stepping on something unsteady can cause your ankle to roll to the side and potentially tear a ligament. If you’re going on a rocky hike or running on an uneven path, watch where you’re placing your feet.

Prevent recurring injuries. If you’ve sprained your foot before, you may be susceptible to additional damage in the future. Take precautions like taping or bracing your feet.

Listen to your body. If you feel pain in your foot, stop whatever you’re doing. You could be a few steps away from a much more severe sprain if you decide to push yourself.

You should contact your doctor if your foot is numb or tingly or if your symptoms persist or worsen. Normally, the prognosis for a sprained foot is good.

Treat yourself, follow the R.I.C.E. method, and get back out there when you’ve fully healed.