A sprain is an injury to a ligament, the strong bands of connective tissue that attach one bone to another. Sprains can occur when a ligament is overstretched, twisted or bruised. Many sprains occur as a result of slip-and-fall accidents and sports accidents, and they are also relatively common among people with balance issues or others who may be unsteady on their feet. Sudden twisting or torquing of joints is one of the most common causes of ligament injuries, when a joint pivots or overextends, causing the ligament to stretch. Sprains are very common in the ankles, and they can also occur in smaller joints of the toes and feet, as well as in other areas of the body.
Sprains in the feet and ankles typically cause localized pain and tenderness which are often accompanied by swelling. Pain intensifies when the ligaments are forced to move, such as when flexing or extending the foot or ankle, or when weight is placed on the foot or ankle. Sometimes, sprains may cause a “popping” noise when the occur as the ligament stretches or twists and then snaps back into place.
Many sprains respond to rest, elevation and ice pack application to reduce inflammation in the joint and to enable healing to occur. Splinting, bracing or taping is often used to immobilize the area while healing occurs, and pain medication may also be prescribed in severe sprains if over-the-counter medication is ineffective. If the sprain is accompanied by a complete or partial tear of the ligament, surgery is often needed to repair the ligament and restore normal function and range of motion. Physical therapy may also be recommended to aid in healing and to prevent the joint from becoming stiff.