Did I Break or Strain My Foot?

Foot breaks and strains are common injuries for many people, whether you fall during a run or stumble stepping off the sidewalk. If you’re experiencing pain in your foot, it’s important to know the difference between a break and a strain so you can seek the appropriate treatment. Use this guide to help you answer the question, “Did I break or strain my foot?”

What’s the Difference Between a Break and a Strain?

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Image via Flickr by Phil Roeder

A break and a strain in your foot can both cause pain, but there are key differences between the two that can help you know which issue you have. Your foot has bones connected to muscle by cords of tissues, known as tendons. A break occurs when you fracture or completely break a bone in your foot. A strain occurs when you stretch, twist, or tear a tendon in your foot.

Both breaks and strains in the foot can occur suddenly or over time. Common causes of foot breaks include sports injuries or accidents. Bone weakness, caused by overuse, can also lead to an eventual break. Similarly, you can suffer a foot strain if you abruptly stretch or pull a tendon. You may also strain your foot if you perform repetitive movements over long periods of time. Strains are common injuries for athletes who perform the same movements each day, such as dancers or runners.

How To Identify a Break

If you believe you may have broken a bone in your foot, it’s important to go to an urgent care center or emergency room immediately for diagnosis and treatment. Here are some common symptoms of a broken bone to help you decide whether to seek immediate medical help:

  • A “cracking” sound you hear as the injury occurs.
  • Pain that becomes worse if you move your foot or apply pressure.
  • Visible swelling or bruising.
  • Numbness, tenderness, or a tingling sensation.
  • Inability to put weight on your foot for even a few steps.
  • Visible deformity of the foot.

If you aren’t sure whether it’s a break or a strain, it’s better to seek immediate medical care so a doctor can make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

How To Identify a Strain

While some foot strains can be mild, others can be moderate to severe, which may cause acute pain. The symptoms of a foot strain may vary depending on the severity of the strain, but they typically include:

  • Pain, especially around the arch of the foot.
  • Muscle spasms or weakness.
  • Swelling or inflammation.
  • Visible bruising.
  • Tenderness or cramping.
  • Limping.
  • Increased pain when you walk or bear weight on the foot.

If you suspect you may have suffered a foot strain, make an appointment with a physician to confirm the diagnosis. If you have severe pain or pain that continues to worsen, go to an urgent care center or ER for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment for a Broken Foot

If you break or fracture a bone in your foot, treatment will depend on the extent of the break. A doctor will take X-rays to determine the severity of the injury. Treatment for a broken bone may include pain medication, splinting, or a cast to immobilize the foot. You may have to use crutches or a wheelchair while the break heals. In severe cases, the doctor may recommend surgery to repair the broken bone.

Typically, a broken bone in the foot heals within eight weeks. After the bone heals, you may benefit from physical therapy, which can help improve the strength and flexibility of the injured foot.

Treatment for a Strained Foot

In many cases, the treatment for a foot strain may include over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and inflammation, along with the RICE method. If a doctor recommends this method to help with pain and discomfort, here’s what you can do:

  • Rest: Stay off your feet as much as possible to allow the strain time to heal. Plan to rest for at least one to two days after the injury.
  • Ice: For the first couple of days, apply ice to the injured area for 10 minutes at a time as often as you can. It’s important to wrap the ice in a towel to protect your skin.
  • Compression: Use bandaging to wrap your foot, which can help to reduce swelling. You want the bandage to feel tight without cutting off circulation.
  • Elevation: While you’re resting, prop your foot on a pillow. You may have to lie down so your foot is above your heart, which helps reduce swelling.

If you suffer a severe foot sprain, a physician may recommend a cast to immobilize the foot or surgery to repair the damaged area. In these cases, physical therapy is usually necessary to help the foot continue to heal.

How To Prevent a Foot Break or Strain

While foot breaks or strains can sometimes be unavoidable, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of these injuries. Here are some tips to help you prevent a foot break or strain:

  • Choose the right shoes: It’s helpful to choose the right shoes for various activities. If you’re an athlete, make sure you’re choosing shoes specific to your sport. Regardless of the activity you’re doing, always make sure you’re wearing shoes that fit properly.
  • Stretch your muscles: Before you engage in any strenuous activity, such as a workout or yard work, it’s helpful to stretch your muscles first. Lightly stretch for several minutes to help your muscles warm up. If you’re consistently active, make time to stretch every day.
  • Eat healthy: You can develop strength in both the bones and muscles of your feet by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. For increased bone strength, focus on eating foods rich in calcium, such as milk and yogurt.
  • Listen to your body: If you ever feel any pain in your foot while moving or playing a sport, stop what you’re doing and rest until the pain subsides. Often, listening to your body can help you avoid injuries caused by distraction or overuse.

Schedule an Appointment With Dr. Lisa Schoene

If you have concerns about pain in your foot or the potential risk of a break or strain, schedule a consultation with Dr. Lisa Schoene or one of the other experienced professionals at Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Associates. We offer a variety of podiatry services and treatment options to help with your specific issue. We strive to help you understand your diagnosis and learn how you can prevent recurring injuries in the future. Contact us to schedule your appointment today.