What is ankle pain?
Ankle pain refers to any kind of pain or discomfort affecting any part of the ankle. It can affect individuals of any age and have a variety of causes. It may prevent a person from walking. Ankle pain can affect one or both ankles.
The ankle is a complex part of the body where the tibia and fibula leg bones meet the talus foot bone. The stretchy ligaments hold these bones together and permit movement. It is a part of the body that is especially prone to injury due to its complexity.
Who gets ankle pain?
Anyone of any age can experience ankle pain. Ankle pain is often caused by an accidental fall or sports injury. It is more common in athletes and in active men under the age of 24. In women, ankle pain is more prevalent in those over 30.
What causes ankle pain?
Ankle pain is most commonly caused by a sprain. A sprain is an injury to the ligaments connecting the ankle bones. A sprain can occur when the ankle is twisted out of its normal position, usually towards the inside of the leg, causing the ligament to tear.
Ankle pain can also be caused by a fracture of one of the bones in the ankle. Because the fibula is quite small compared to the tibia, it is the bone most common to break. Less common causes of ankle pain include arthritis, gout, and infection.
Achilles tendonitis, or overusing the calf muscles at the back of the leg, can also cause ankle pain. This is more common in runners.
What are the symptoms of ankle pain?
In addition to pain, an injury to the ankle will usually result in swelling, and sometimes bruising, too. Often, an individual will not be able to bear any weight on their ankle.
If you cannot put weight on your ankle, can see swelling or redness, or are having moderate to severe ankle pain, you should stay off of your foot and seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
How is ankle pain diagnosed?
Your doctor will begin an examination by asking about your ankle. For example, were you walking, playing sports, or did it start without an incident? The doctor will then conduct a visual examination, followed by a physical examination. An X-ray may also be ordered to see if the cause of the pain is a sprain or fracture. In some cases, fluid from the ankle joint may be taken to check for infection, or other underlying conditions.
How is ankle pain treated?
Treatment for ankle pain depends on the cause, whether it is a sprain or fracture.
Ankle pain is usually treated by requiring you to stay off of your foot, often for several weeks (with the use of crutches). When reclining, you will usually be told to elevate your foot. Your doctor may also tell you to apply ice to your ankle up to three times a day to reduce swelling.
You may also be prescribed a compression bandage to reduce swelling. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen may be advised to help with the swelling and pain.
In cases of severe ankle injuries, surgery may be necessary.
How can ankle pain be prevented?
Warming up before exercising might reduce your chances of an ankle injury. Wearing properly fitted shoes and avoiding high heels can also help prevent ankle injuries.
If you do experience an ankle injury, resting and following your doctor’s instructions can help you heal as soon as possible.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "Chronic Ankle Pain May Be More Than Just A Sprain." ScienceDaily, 11 May 2009. Accessed 08/30/2013.
- Jenkin WM. Chapter 7. Approach to the Patient with Ankle & Foot Pain. In: Imboden JB, Hellmann DB, Stone JH, eds. CURRENT Rheumatology Diagnosis & Treatment. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2007.
- Luke A, Ma C. Chapter 41. Sports Medicine & Outpatient Orthopedics. In: Papadakis MA, McPhee SJ, Rabow MW, Berger TG, eds. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2014. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2013.
- Martin J. Thomas, Edward Roddy, Weiya Zhang, Hylton B. Menz, Marian T. Hannan, George M. Peat, The population prevalence of foot and ankle pain in middle and old age: A systematic review, PAIN, Volume 152, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 2870-2880
- American College of Sports Medicine. Ankle Sprains and the Athlete Accessed 01/17/2014.
This article was reviewed by James Sferra, MD. Dr. Sferra is a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle reconstructive surgery, fractures, and sports injuries of the foot and ankle.
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