With so many bones, muscles and ligaments in your feet, they are vulnerable to a wide variety of injuries. These includes stress fractures, bone break, sprains and strains. However, many of these injuries share common symptoms. And that can make it very hard to determine what is wrong with your feet, or when you need to seek medical attention.

Now, that's especially true when you hear of injuries, like sprains and strains, that sound and look similar. So, what's the difference between these two concerns? And which is a more serious injury? Keep reading to find out!

Which is Worse a Strain or a Sprain?

A foot strain and foot sprain are two different injuries. But sometimes, when you first get hurt, it's hard to know what athletic injury you've experienced. So, with this guide, we'll explain each injury, then offer treatment tips for your unique sports injury.

What is a Foot Strain? interior of foot anatomy with foot strain | Powder Springs Podiatrist

If you're diagnosed with a foot strain, it means you've stretched or torn tendons and muscles in your foot. (Remember, tendons are a type of tissue that attaches your muscle to your bones.)

What is a Foot Sprain?

In contrast, when you sprain your foot, it means you've torn or stretched the ligaments in your foot. (Ligaments are a kind of tough tissue that connects your bones to each other.)

Causes and Symptoms

Typically, the risk factors for a foot strain and foot sprain are the same. Usually, the problems begin when you twist or turn your foot or ankle. As the force of rotation hits your foot, it can roll too far inwards or outwards, and that can cause the stretching or tearing that leads to an injury.

Symptoms for both injuries are also very similar. You're likely to experience pain, especially when you try to walk, and it will be localized over the site of your injury.  You may also develop swelling at the injury site. Now, some people think you can't walk on an injured foot or ankle. However, that's not the case: walking is often possible, even with a sprain or strain injury. Still, that doesn't mean you can walk off this kind of injury. In fact, if you can walk, it will be difficult, and you'll probably need to limp. Finally, you may develop a bruise around the injury site.

Diagnosis: How Can You Tell if It's a Foot Strain or Sprain?

While the two injuries are different, treatment is usually the same. (More on that in a minute.) As a result, we won't necessarily need to determine which injury you've suffered in order to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. So, in most cases, we will likely diagnose your foot strain or sprain with a physical exam, after discussing how you sustained your injury.

In some cases, we'll also order an X-ray to rule out a foot fracture. And that distinction is very important, since caring for a broken bone involves a different protocol. Once we've confirmed that your foot is strained or sprained, we'll also classify the severity of your injury. The classifications range from mild (grade I) to severe (grade III.) And that classification matters, because it will help decide how we treat your injury.

Foot Strain Treatment in Powder Springs, GA

If you have a mild foot strain, we can treat your injury at home. We'll suggest RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). While resting, you should stay off your injured foot as much as possible, icing it several times throughout the day for periods of 15 to 20 minutes. Compression, often in the form of a wrapped bandage, can help you reduce swelling and discomfort. And elevation--propping your injured foot up above the level of your heart--will also help reduce or prevent swelling, by making it easier for blood and fluid to drain out of the injured foot or ankle.

In many cases, we may also recommend taking over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen to manage pain and swelling. But make sure to tell us about any medications you're already taking, since not everyone can safely tolerate this class of medication.

When Will I Feel Better After a Foot Sprain or Strain?

Every patient's recovery is unique. And, in addition to your unique body, the degree to which you stick to your recovery plan will determine how quickly you feel better. However, with sprains and strains, we can usually say that, with a mild injury, you should start feeling better in about two weeks. However, healing these injuries could take as long as eight weeks, especially if your injury is a more moderate grade II sprain or strain.

In severe cases, you may need to immobilize a strained foot. In such cases, we would likely put you in a walking boot to help you stay active while allowing your injury to heal. While rare, you may even need surgery to heal your injury. (This is typically only necessary if you suffer a Lisfranc injury, a sprain in the midfoot that's common with athletes but rare in the general population.) Luckily, we can perform both open and minimally invasive surgery, helping you have more control over your treatment. However, if any type of surgery is required, you should expect that your recovery period will last longer.

When to See Your Podiatrist

As you can see, foot injuries such as sprains, strains and even foot fractures leave you experiencing similar symptoms. And, being able to walk after getting hurt doesn't mean that you haven't damaged your tendons, ligaments or bones. In fact, it's often possible (though painful) to walk on a sprained or strained foot or ankle. Yet doing so could cause more damage. So, when should you see your podiatrist in the Lost Mountain neighborhood of Powder Springs?

After a foot injury, it's important to seek immediate treatment. While you may be able to walk on a sprained or strained foot, doing so can worsen your injury. So, if you're out for a run, having a catch, or take a misstep and feel pain? Make an immediate appointment with Dr. Alvin Cowans. The sooner we diagnose your injury, the sooner we can start your healing and get you back into action.

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