Ankle pain is often associated with sports injuries. However, you don’t have to be an athlete or fitness guru to hurt your ankle. By simply walking or dancing to your favorite tunes on an uneven surface can trigger painful debilitating ankle pains.
According to studies, 25,000 people in the US alone have ankle sprains, and over one million people visit the ER every year due to ankle pain.
So, one might ask what are the most common ankle pain causes and symptoms? What is the best course of treatment for ankle injuries? Read on to find out more.
Ankle Pain Defined
Ankle pain is any form of pain or discomfort that affects any parts of your ankle – it can be the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Ankle pain can also happen due to several reasons.
The most common causes include ankle sprains, injuries, arthritis, and the normal wear and tear of the joints. Depending on the cause, you might feel some pain or stiffness around your ankle. Other ankle pain symptoms include swelling, difficulty to move the ankle, and hematoma, in worst cases.
More often than not, ankle pain gets better with rest, massage, and over-the-counter pain meds. Joint pain supplements, ankle pain exercises, natural herbs, and medical devices can also help. When the injury is severe, like a broken ankle bone, your health provider might recommend going through surgery.
Common Ankle Pain Causes
The most common type of ankle pain causes include:
Ankle Sprains – According to the National University of Health Science (NUHS), ankle sprains are the most popular forms of ankle pain – making about 85% of all ankle injuries.
A sprain mainly happens when your ligaments, the tissues that connect bones, are stretched beyond their regular range of motion, causing a tear.
According to Harvard researchers, a sprained ankle often bruises for 7 to 14 days. Nevertheless, it might take a few months for a severe ankle sprain to heal completely.
Bursitis – Bursitis is a common joint and ankle pain issue that causes pain and inflammation. It is triggered by the swelling of a small pocket of fluid commonly known as bursa or bursae. Typically, these small pouches safeguard your bones, ligaments, and tendons from impact and pressure.
Nevertheless, continuous friction, excess pressure, and injuries can cause the fluid to increase, making the affected area inflamed and tender.
Individuals with bunions or irritated joints are prone to bursitis. Arthritis can also trigger bursitis, particularly in the ball of your foot.
- Fractures – Apart from sprains, one of the most common ankle pain causes is fractures. These involve breaking bones due to accidents or injuries. Ankle fractures can range from mild to severe, and they can involve any part of your ankle joint.
Tendonitis – Tendons connect your muscles to bones. Inflamed tendons are soft tissue injuries known as tendonitis.
Sometimes tendons can also tear, a condition known as Achilles tendon rupture. In such cases, many physicians recommend going through surgical repair.
Arthritis – Arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, are common ankle pain causes. The condition occurs when the cartilage, the tissue in the joints that cushions and safeguards your bones, breaks down. This breakdown causes bones to rub against each other, causing injuries. Overuse of bones can also lead to arthritis, and it is more common in persons over the age of 65.
The Signs of Ankle Pain
As mentioned, ankle pain can result from inflammation or injuries to your ankle bones, cartilage, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. The pain might also come on suddenly or slowly, during specific movements or when you’re resting.
Ankle pain is also said to be common in individuals who:
- Are aged 65 and above
- Play sports or engage in activities that involve jumping or quick changes in direction
- Are obese
While pain is the most common sign of ankle pain, there are signs and symptoms associated with an ankle injury. These include:
- Ankle swelling
- Burning pain
- Hematoma (accumulation blood under the ankle skin)
- Clicking sounds
- Misshapen bones
- Difficulty in moving your ankle and joints
Popular Ankle Pain Symptoms
Some of the most popular ankle pain symptoms include:
Bumps and Bruises – Bruises are caused by damaged tiny blood vessels due to trauma to the skin. The raised area of the bruise results from blood leaks from the injured blood vessels into the tissue and the body’s response to the ankle injury.
Ankle bruises are medically known as a contusion, while the purplish bruises that occur when blood leaks into the top layer of your skin are known as ecchymosis.
Bruising occurs more in elderly persons, those aged 65 and above because their capillaries tend to be fragile than those in young individuals.
Weakness – One of the most common forms of ankle pain symptoms is weakness in the joints. Weakness mainly refers to the loss of muscle strength, or rather, measurable loss of muscle function.
Metabolic diseases, injuries, some forms of nerve damage, and toxins can all trigger muscle weakness. Other signs of weakness in the ankle joints might be a result of loss of balance or overworking your joints.
Joint Stiffness – Joint stiffness or difficulty in moving your joints is also one of the most popular ankle pain symptoms. It mostly occurs due to overusing the joints and medical conditions like arthritis. It also often accompanies joint pain and ankle swelling.
Depending on the cause, joint stiffness might also involve some tenderness, warmth, tingling sensations, and numbness of the affected area. Sometimes, inflammation of the ankle can also trigger pain that limits movement of your joints, stimulating joint stiffness.
While medication might be the best treatment for this ankle pain symptom, many physicians recommend subscribing to ankle pain exercises like stretching your muscles and joints.
Swollen Ankles – Swelling is another major ankle pain symptom. It occurs due to injuries to the ankle – joints, muscles, or bones. Swelling on one side of your ankle is often due to sprains or strains.
Swelling might also be a result of obstruction of your venous system, which is due to conditions like obesity and pregnancy.
The Best Form of Ankle Pain Treatment
The best form of ankle pain treatment depends on the severity of the injury. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, promote healing, and restore the function of your ankles.
For severe injuries, your physician might recommend consulting a specialist in musculoskeletal injuries like an orthopedic surgeon.
The most recommended form of ankle pain treatment is the R.I.C.E approach (especially for the first two days after injury):
- Rest – don’t engage in activities that could worsen the pain and swelling
- Ice – place an ice pack immediately for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat the process every two to three hours
- Compression – to stop any swelling, compress your ankle with an elastic bandage till it ceases. Remember not to wrap your ankle too tightly
- Elevation – to reduce any joint stiffness and swelling, elevate your ankle above the level of your heart. Studies show that gravity helps reduce swelling by getting rid of the excess fluid
Medication and Supplements
In most cases, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can help manage ankle pain and prevent further ankle infections.
Walking with a sprained ankle might be too painful. Therefore, you may need to invest in crutches until the pain fades.
Depending on the severity of the pain, your physician might recommend tying an elastic bandage, sports tape, or a brace to support your ankle. In case the pain is severe, a cast or walking boot might be necessary to stabilize your ankle while it heals.
Ankle Pain Exercises
If you’re not into taking meds or supplements, then the best form of ankle pain treatment might be indulging in various exercises.
According to experts, ankle pain exercises can help lower the pain and stiffness. Some of the best exercises to practice when dealing with ankle pain include:
1. Achilles Tendon Stretch
This exercise helps soothe your Achilles tendons and joint ligaments.
- To start, loop your towel around the ball of your foot
- Then, pull back your foot towards your body with your knees straight
- Hold for 30 to 45 seconds for each foot
2. Towel Pickup
This exercise helps improve movement around the ankles while also boosting the flexibility and stability of your ankle and foot
- Place a towel or any piece of clothing in front of your seat
- While your heel is on the ground, pick the towel up by grabbing it with your toes
- Repeat the process 10 to 20 times
3. Standing Calf Stretch
One of the best ankle pain exercises, the standing calf stretch has been shown to help improve the stability and strength of your ankle muscles.
- Stand facing the wall
- Place your hands in front of you, touching the wall
- Put one foot in front of the other, about 40 cm away from the wall
- Keep your back straight with the back heel flat on the floor
- Slowly bend the front knee till you can feel a slight stretch in your calf
- Relax and repeat the exercise 10 to 15 times
When the swelling and ankle pain reduces, your doctor might recommend physiotherapy to help restore your ankle’s range of motion, flexibility, and strength.
Balance and stability training is vital to help retrain your ankle muscles to work harmoniously to support your joints and prevent recurrent sprains. This might include deep tissue massages or various degrees of balance challenges, like standing on one leg.
In rare cases, when the injury is severe, the best form of ankle pain treatment might be surgery. Most physicians recommend surgical repair when the ankle doesn’t heal after an extended period and when physiotherapy doesn’t seem to offer any results.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best way to massage ankle pain is by exerting some mild pressure on the affected area, then soothing the pain by gently massaging your ankle in a circular motion.
Ankle pain occurs due to ankle injuries, medical conditions like arthritis, normal wear and tear of ligaments and cartilage, and bursitis. Depending on the trigger, one might feel pain, swelling, and stiffness around the ankle.
No, they aren't the same. However, many forms of arthritis, mainly osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can trigger ankle pain.
You can heal ankle pain by using the RICE self-care method, consuming joint pain supplements, going for physiotherapy, and practicing some healthy and effective ankle pain exercises.
Well, that might be caused by muscle strains and sprains. Ankle pain occurs when a muscle or tendon is overstretched, whereas a tear in the ligaments causes a sprain.
The Bottom Line
Ankle pain is a result of various injuries, mishaps, and medical conditions. Swelling, stiffness, bruises, and weakness can make walking and carrying out simple tasks difficult or uncomfortable.