Foot and Ankle Injury

Is this your symptom?

  • Injuries to a bone, muscle, joint, or ligament of the ankle and foot

Some Basics...

  • There are many ways that people can injure their foot or ankle.
  • There are also many types of foot and ankle injuries. There are bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscles in the foot and ankle. These can all be injured.
  • Treatment depends on the type of injury a person has. A doctor will know the right way to treat a foot or ankle injury.

Types of Injuries

  • Abrasion: This is the medical term for scraped skin. This happens when an injury scrapes off the top layer of the skin. Examples are when people "scrape" or "skin" their shin or ankle. Pain is usually mild. This can usually be treated at home.
  • Achilles Tendon Rupture: This is a tear of the tendon behind the ankle. This tendon joins the calf muscles and the heel bone. When the tear happens, there is usually a loud popping sound or feeling. Pain may be mild to moderate. The person cannot stand on the toes of that foot. This injury happens more often to athletes and older people. Surgery is almost always needed.
  • Contusion: This is the medical term for bruise. It is caused by a direct blow to the skin and muscles. The skin is not broken and there is no cut. The bruised skin may first look red, then purple, and finally orange-yellow. These skin color changes are from blood that leaked from tiny torn blood vessels in the bruised area. The skin may also be swollen. Pain is usually mild to moderate. Bruises are tender to touch. Most often this can be treated at home.
  • Cut - Superficial: Superficial cuts (scratches) only go part of the way through the skin and rarely become infected. A scratch is an injury to the skin made by a sharp edge. For example, scratches can be caused by fingernails, a sharp nail, a piece of metal, or a branch of a tree or bush. A paper cut is a scratch from the edge of a piece of paper. This can usually be treated at home.
  • Cut - Deep: Deep cuts (lacerations) go through the skin. Lacerations longer than ½ inch (12 mm), or ¼ inch (6 mm) the face, usually need sutures (stitches). A laceration is caused by cutting the skin with the sharp edge of an object.
  • Dislocation: This is when a bone comes out of the joint. The joint always looks crooked or deformed. The pain is severe. A person with this problem should go to the doctor right away. A doctor will treat this by putting the bone back into the joint socket.
  • Fracture: This is the medical term for a broken bone. It means the same thing as a break or crack in the bone. The pain is severe and there is often marked swelling. The type of treatment needed depends on the type of fracture. Sometimes a person with a fracture just needs a splint or a cast. A person with a more severe fracture may need surgery.
  • Sprain: A sprain is the medical term used when ligaments are torn or over-stretched. Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect bones to each other. A "twisted ankle" means the same thing. Pain and swelling can range from mild to severe. Minor sprains heal themselves with time and rest. More severe sprains need a splint or a cast and take 4-6 weeks to heal. Surgery is rarely needed for a sprain. A person who hurts his or her ankle and cannot put any weight on it should see a doctor.
  • Strain: A strain is the medical term used when muscles are torn or over-stretched. A more common term for this is a "pulled muscle". These are common injuries from falling, heavy lifting, and sports. Strains may heal themselves with time and rest. Surgery is rarely needed for a muscle strain.

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Foot and Ankle Injury

Call 911 Now

  • Major bleeding (nonstop bleeding or spurting)
  • Limb has been partially or completely amputated
  • Foot or ankle looks crooked or deformed (like a dislocated joint or bad fracture)
  • Bone sticking through the skin
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Severe pain
  • Cannot stand, put weight on the injury, or walk
  • Severe swelling
  • Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
  • You think you have a serious injury
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Large swelling or bruise at the site of the injury (wider than 2 inches, 5 cm)
  • Limping when walking
  • Over 60 years old and pain lasts more than 24 hours
  • Have osteoporosis and pain lasts more than 24 hours
  • Take steroid medicine and pain lasts more than 24 hours
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Last tetanus shot was over 10 years ago, for CLEAN cut or scrape
  • Last tetanus shot was over 5 years ago, for DIRTY cut or scrape
  • Pain from injury keeps you from working or going to school
  • Pain from injury is not better after 3 days
  • Injury is still painful or swollen after 2 weeks
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Minor bruise
  • Minor strained (pulled) muscle or sprained (stretched) ligament

Care Advice for Minor Bruise, Sprain, or Strain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • There are many ways that people can injure their foot or ankle.
    • There are also many types of foot and ankle injuries. There are bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscles in the foot and ankle. These can all be injured.
    • You can treat a minor bruise, sprain, or strain at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Treatment of Minor Bruise (direct blow to ankle or foot):
    • Cold Pack: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the sore area for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed.
    • Heat Pack:
      • If pain lasts over 2 days, apply heat to the sore area. Use a heat pack, heating pad, or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
      • For widespread stiffness, take a hot bath or hot shower instead. Move the sore area under the warm water.
    • Rest the injured part as much as you can for 48 hours.
  3. Treatment of Minor Sprains and Strains:
    • FIRST AID: Wrap with a snug elastic bandage. Put an ice pack on it to reduce bleeding, swelling, and pain. Wrap the ice pack in a moist towel.
    • Treat with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E.) for the first 24-48 hours.
      • REST the injured leg for 24 hours. You can then return to normal activity if it is not too painful.
      • Keep using crushed ICE packs for 10-20 minutes every hour for the first 4 hours. Then use ice for 10-20 minutes 4 times a day for the first 2 days.
      • Apply COMPRESSION by wrapping the injured part with a snug, elastic bandage for 48 hours. If you feel numbness, tingling, or more pain, the bandage may be too tight. Loosen the bandage wrap.
      • Keep injured ankle or foot ELEVATED and at rest for 24 hours. Keep your foot up on a pillow. Stay off your feet as much as you can.
    • Pain Medicine:
      • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
      • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
      • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
      • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
      • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
    • What to Expect: Pain and swelling most often get better 2 to 3 days after an injury. Swelling is most often gone in 7 days. Pain may take 2 weeks to go away.
    • Call Your Doctor If:
      • Pain becomes severe
      • Pain is not better after 3 days
      • Pain or swelling lasts more than 2 weeks
      • You think you need to be seen
      • You get worse

    And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

    Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


    Last Reviewed: 6/26/2017 1:08:19 AM
    Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:06 PM

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    Ankle Sprain

    This ankle sprain occurred while playing basketball. There is visible swelling of the outside (lateral aspect) of the left ankle.

    First Aid Care Advice for Ankle Sprain:

    • Wrap with a snug elastic bandage.
    • Apply an ice pack (crushed ice in a plastic bag covered with a towel) to reduce swelling and pain.
    Ankle Fracture (Open)

    This is a compound (open) fracture because the broken bone cut through the skin on the side of the ankle.

    First Aid Care Advice for Open Fracture:

    • Cover wound with a sterile gauze or clean cloth.
    • Immobilize the ankle by applying a splint. Wrap a large soft pillow around ankle and foot (Reason: to support ankle and foot and keep bones from moving around).
    • Apply a cold pack or an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) to the area.
    First Aid - Bleeding Leg
    • Apply direct pressure to the entire wound with a sterile gauze dressing or a clean cloth.
    First Aid - R.I.C.E.

    RICE is an acronym for how to take care of a sprain, strain, or bruise. There are four things you should do:

    • REST the injured part of your body for 24 hours. Can return to normal activity after 24 hours of rest if the activity does not cause severe pain.
    • Apply a cold pack or an ICE bag (wrapped in a moist towel) to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat in 1 hour, then every 4 hours while awake.
    • Apply COMPRESSION by wrapping the injured part with a snug, elastic bandage for 48 hours. If numbness, tingling, or increased pain occurs in the injured part, the bandage may be too tight. Loosen the bandage wrap.
    • Keep the injured part of the body ELEVATED and at rest for 24 hours. For example, for an injured ankle, place that leg up on a pillow and stay off the feet as much as possible.
    First Aid - Cold Pack for Minor Ankle Injury
    • Apply a cold pack or an ice bag (wrapped in a moist towel) to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat in 1 hour, then every 4 hours while awake.
    First Aid - Splint for Ankle Injury
    • Wrap a large soft pillow around ankle and foot (Reason: to support ankle and foot and keep bones from moving around).
    • Use tape to hold the pillow in place.

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