Sprained Foot: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

A sprained foot is an injury to any of the ligaments in the foot. These injuries could be an overstretching, a partial or full tear of the ligaments in the foot.

What Causes It?

  1. Wearing the wrong shoes to carry out activities may sprain ligaments in the foot or weaken the ligaments in the foot. The impact of running or landing on your foot in the unsupported position can cause a sprain to the ligaments in the foot.
  2. Athletes that train on uneven or rough playing surfaces are prone to getting their feet sprained.
  3. A sudden twist of the foot while running or jumping from a high place and landing awkwardly.


  1. Pain at the foot which can either be at the arch or the heel of the foot
  2. Tenderness
  3. Swelling at the top of the foot
  4. Difficulty Walking or bearing weight on the affected foot

How Is It Treated?

An X-ray is usually recommended to ensure that the foot or ankle is not broken as they both have pain and swelling in common with a sprained foot.

1. See A Doctor

This is very necessary as not every treatment will work for a sprained foot. The doctor will prescribe the necessary medications needed to relieve pain and swelling in the foot. An x-ray is usually recommended to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms mentioned earlier.


The doctor may also refer you to a physiotherapist to assess the foot and prevent any further injury to the foot.

2. Physiotherapy

A physiotherapist will assess the foot to ensure that there are no fractures or dislocations as they tend to have similar symptoms with a sprained ligament.

Due to the close proximity of the foot to the ankle, the physiotherapist will also assess the ankle just in case there are some injuries around it. After the assessment, the physiotherapist designs realistic goals to get you back on your feet.

3. R.I.C.E Protocol

Rest- The foot should be left to rest which basically means that no weight should be placed on the foot. Taping and the use of crutches will help to rest the affected foot.

Ice- Ice has been shown to reduce swelling and relieve pain by making the affected area numb. This can be done by placing big chunks of ice into a bowl of water and placing your foot into the bowl for 15 minutes or crush ice in a damp towel and place around the painful part of your foot for 15 minutes.


Compression- Compression helps to reduce swelling by using an elastic bandage. This is wrapped around the foot, especially the swollen part, which will help to reduce the swelling.

Elevation- Elevation also reduces swelling. The foot should be elevated higher than the chest when lying down (like placing it on a pillow. This will help reduce swelling.

4. Painkillers

Painkillers like NSAIDs are recommended to help reduce swelling and relieve pain. Ointments with analgesics as their major component might be recommended by your doctor. An ointment with methyl salicylate or a hot gel is NOT recommended in the first 3 – 5 days after the injury.

5. Surgery

Surgery is recommended when the ligaments are completely torn. A ligament repair or reconstruction injury is usually done to the ruptured ligament.

6. Exercises

Exercises are gradually introduced into the rehabilitation treatment as the injury heals.


Some of these exercises include:

  • Place your feet on the floor and spread your toes. Hold this for 5 seconds and rest them
  • While lying or sitting, point your toes towards the ceiling and then to the ground. This can be done 5 to 10 times.
  • While sitting, roll a tennis ball under your foot back and forth to help relax the muscles and provide some form of massage
  • Place your heel on the floor and lift your forefoot and midfoot off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds and drop your entire foot to the ground.

How Long Does Healing Take?

The time frame of healing for a sprained foot depends on the severity of the ligament injury. It also depends on how soon treatment and rehabilitation commenced after the injury.

All ligament injuries are graded from 1 to 3 and can only be identified by a doctor and a physiotherapist. These grades are:

Grade 1- In this grade of ligament injury, the ligaments are overstretched beyond their limit but they are not torn. This takes about 2 to 4 weeks to completely heal.

Grade 2 – The ligaments are partially torn but not completely. This takes about 6 to 8 weeks.

Grade 3 – In this grade, the ligaments are completely torn and often require surgery. This takes at least 3 months to heal.


  • Wear the right shoes or place a silicon insole in your flat shoes.
  • Check your training shoes and change them when due. Training shoes actually have a life span. If you overuse your trainers, they begin to wear out and may not provide as much balance for the foot. Also, your training shoes should be properly taken care of. A way to know when your shoes are wearing off is to compare your new walking shoes, for example with the old one.
  • Warm-up and stretch before any serious physical activity. Warming up prepares the muscles in the legs for any sporting activity and helps prevent injuries.

Possible Complications

  • Severe pain at the ankle joint
  • Recurring swelling in the injured foot
  • Muscle weakness of the affected leg
  • Change in the normal walking pattern which may cause a domino effect of pain in the ankle and knee joints


A sprained foot may seem like a minor injury but if not well treated, it may stop you from performing your daily activities, especially if you are into sports and may go on to cause pain at the ankle and knee joints. It’s best to seek medical attention as soon as possible to get it properly treated.

Latest posts by Adekanmi Lipede, M.Sc, MPH (see all)
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