Foot and Ankle Sprains and Strains

What are foot and ankle sprains?

Foot and ankle sprains and strains are some of the most common sports injuries. These types of soft tissue injuries are often the result of not warming up correctly, having muscle fatigue that makes you more prone to injury, working out or being active in unsafe conditions (such as a slippery surface) and wearing improper shoes.

A sprain is a stretch or tear to one or more ligaments in the foot or ankle. Ligaments are the rubber band-like bands of tissue that connect one bone to another and stabilize the joints by binding them together. The ligaments give the foot and ankle joint stability by limiting side-to-side movement and enabling walking and running. Along with the lower leg, they form a complex supporting structure for the body. The ligaments normally stretch within their limits and return to normal position. When they're overstretched they can tear.

Sprains occur when there is a fall or blow to the body that knocks the joint out of position and ruptures the supporting ligaments. A sprain often occurs in the ankle when the joint rolls, twists or turns in an awkward way. The amount of pain you experience depends on the degree to which the ligament stretched or tore. Instability occurs when the ligament has completely torn or the joint has dislocated.

Strains, by comparison, involve stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons rather than ligaments. Tendons attach the muscles to the bones. Strains also occur from twisting, pulling or tearing a muscle or tendon during overstretching or over contraction.

Symptoms of foot and ankle sprains and strains

Sprains and strains have similar symptoms, such as:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Difficulty walking on the injured foot or ankle
  • Spasming (strains)


When you have a mild sprain or strain, you can usually manage your symptoms at home with anti-inflammatory medication for pain and swelling along with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) therapy.

Treatment may involve pain medication, immobilization (keeping the foot or ankle still with a brace or cast) and physical therapy. With severe sprains and strains, surgery may be an option.

If your symptoms get worse, however, and you experience increased pain, redness or swelling, you may need to see a doctor for proper diagnosis. Your doctor may recommend an X-ray, ultrasound and/or MRI to further examine the area for fracture and other possible causes of your symptoms.

When you need care for a common or severe sprain or strain, Orthopaedics at Main Line Health offers highly-trained orthopaedic experts at convenient locations throughout the Philadelphia region.

Ankle Fusion Surgery

Ankle fusion, also called ankle arthrodesis, is a surgical option for arthritis in the ankle, usually the result of traumatic injury to the foot or ankle.

Ankle Joint Replacement

As an alternative to ankle fusion, which locks the joint in a fixed position and does not permit ankle motion, ankle replacement replaces the arthritic surfaces with metal and plastic low-friction implants.

Foot and Ankle Surgery

Physical Therapy

Each inpatient and outpatient physical therapy rehab is individually designed and administered by a licensed physical therapist who consistently guides you from that first visit all the way through recovery.

Foot Surgery

Orthopaedic Trauma Surgery

Epidural Corticosteroid Injections

Your doctor may recommend epidural steroid injections after other noninvasive treatment approaches have failed to relieve your pain.

Orthopaedic Surgery


Pain Management

Discover how Main Line Health experts serve Philadelphia by treating a wide range of conditions, including back, neck and oncology-related pain.

Sports Medicine

If you’ve had a sports-related injury or have a condition that’s keeping you out of the game, our sports medicine expert physicians and specialists are here to help you get back to doing the things you love.


See how Main Line Health’s dedicated team of podiatrists provide expert care, ensuring comprehensive treatment for your foot and ankle conditions.