Ankle pain is often due to an ankle sprain but can also be caused by ankle instability, arthritis, gout, tendonitis, fracture, nerve compression (tarsal tunnel syndrome), infection, and poor structural alignment of the leg or foot. Ankle pain can be associated with swelling, stiffness, redness, and warmth in the involved area. The pain is often described as an intense dull ache that occurs upon weight bearing and ankle motion.
Initial treatment may consist of rest, ice, elevation, and immobilization, but may also include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, physical therapy, and cortisone injection. A foot and ankle surgeon can best determine the cause of the ankle pain and appropriate treatment options.
Causes of Ankle Pain
It is a tear in the tissues that hold your ankle bones together. These tissues are called ligaments. When your foot rolls to the side, it often happens. Your ankle may get swollen and bruised. It might not be strong enough to hold your weight. The best way to treat it is with RICE:
- ice at a time for 20 minutes
- Use stretchy tape to squeeze.
- Raise your ankle—raise it above your heart.
- A small sprain will heal in a few days. If yours is worse, the doctor may suggest a short cast or walking boot, then physical therapy.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis.
Most of the time, your immune system fights off germs. It sometimes goes after your joints by accident. This is called rheumatoid arthritis by doctors. It normally happens on both sides of the same joint. If you have it, your feet may hurt on both sides. Pain, swelling, and stiffness often start in the toes and front of the foot and slowly move back toward the ankle. Physical treatment and exercise can be helpful. Your doctor may also give you pain-relieving shoes or patches or medicine to help with the swelling.
Because of this disease, your body attacks good cells. People with lupus often have pain in their joints, even in their ankles. This is because of arthritis and tendinopathy caused by lupus. Lupus can also cause problems with your kidneys, which can cause fluid to build up in your joints. Lupus can’t be cured, but your doctor can give you medicine to keep it from getting worse. Eating well and working out often can also help.
When two bones meet, they form a joint. The ends of each bone are covered with cartilage, which acts as a padding. It loses its effect over time. When it’s gone, the bones touch each other directly. This can cause pain, stiffness, and the inability to move. Your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs and steroid shots to reduce swelling, braces to help your ankle move less, and physical therapy to teach you building routines. You may have to have surgery.
Gout usually happens in your big toe, but it can also happen in your ankle. It happens when needle-shaped crystals made of uric acid build up in your joints. Uric acid is a waste product. This hurts a lot and makes the area swell up. Your doctor can give you medicine to help you with an attack. Also, you’ll need to sleep. A special diet for gout and getting enough exercise can help prevent attacks and other problems.
What can I do to stop the pain in my ankle?
Most ankle pain gets better with rest, ice, and painkillers you can buy over the counter. To treat ankle pain at home, do what your doctor tells you to do. The RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) may be suggested by your doctor. If your ankle still hurts after a few days of self-care, you should see a doctor.
The most popular ways to treat ankle pain at home are:
If you’ve hurt yourself, like with a sprain, you should rest for a while. Talk with your provider about how long you should rest. You can get around without putting weight on your ankle if you use crutches or a walking boot.
- Ice: Use ice or a cold rub on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours to bring down the swelling.
- Compression: Ask your doctor if you can wrap your ankle with a tight bandage to reduce swelling. Make sure it’s not too tight.
- When you rest with your ankle raised above your heart, the swelling goes down. You can also try to sleep at night with your foot raised.
- Painkillers you can buy over the counter: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can ease pain and lessen swelling. Before you take any medicine, talk to your provider.
- Shoes that offer support: Make sure your shoes give your feet and legs enough support. Don’t wear flip-flops, boots, or shoes that don’t fit well. When playing sports, it’s very important to wear the right shoes. When you don’t have the right shoes, sports like basketball and volleyball can hurt your ankles.
How do people who work in health care treat ankle pain?
Most ankle injuries can be treated at home and get better. Surgery may be needed to fix some accidents. How to treat ankle pain varies on what’s causing it. Some common ways to treat ankle pain are:
- Braces and splints: An ankle brace might help you feel better and keep your ankle stable. For some tasks, some braces work better than others. Ask your source to suggest the one that will work best for you.
- Joint aspiration: During this process, your doctor puts a needle into the joint and takes any extra fluid. Aspirations take away pain and stiffness in the joints.
- Medications: There are many kinds of medicines that can lessen swelling and pain in the ankle. Drugs for arthritis and gout can cut down on pain and stiffness by a lot.
- Orthotic inserts are pieces that you put in your shoes. You can buy them at a shop or have your provider make them especially for your feet. Orthotics support and balance the foot and make sure that it is in the right place.
- Physical therapy (PT): A program designed just for you will help you get more flexible and build up the muscles that support your ankle. Your physical therapist will make a PT plan just for you with exercises and stretches. Make sure to do your exercises and stretches as often as your doctor tells you to.
- Steroid injections: Your doctor or nurse uses a needle to put painkillers straight into your joint. Pain and swelling can be lessened with cortisone shots.
- Surgery: There are a lot of different ways to fix torn ligaments or tendons in the ankle. Some of the choices help with arthritis pain or flat feet. Surgery to repair a joint in the ankle can ease pain and restore mobility.
What can I do to avoid ankle pain?
You might not be able to always stop ankle pain. But if you take care of your health, you can keep your bones, ligaments, and muscles strong. To keep from getting hurt and having ankle pain, you should:
- Keep your weight in check: When you carry extra weight, your joints, including your knees, have to work harder.
- Strengthen your other muscles. If you keep your other muscles strong, your knees will be better supported and you’ll be less likely to get hurt.
- If you’re in pain, stop. Don’t ignore pain. If an action or task hurts, stop and do something else. If the pain doesn’t go away, you should see a doctor. Injury can get worse if you keep working out even though it hurts.
- Warm up right: Stretch before you work out. When muscles and soft parts like ligaments and tendons are warm, they are less likely to get hurt.