Definition of ankle pain
Your ankle is an intricate network of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Strong enough to bear your body weight, your ankle can be prone to injury and pain.
You may feel ankle pain on the inside or outside of your ankle or along the Achilles tendon, which connects the muscles in your lower leg to your heel bone. Although mild ankle pain often responds well to home treatments, it can take time to resolve. Severe ankle pain should be evaluated by your doctor, especially if it follows an injury.
Causes of ankle pain
Injury to any of the bones, ligaments or tendons in the ankle can cause ankle pain. A very common cause of ankle pain is a sprain, which occurs when the ankle joint is subjected to forceful twisting or bending. This can cause an ankle ligament to stretch or even tear. Ankle sprains can happen during sports or simply when you walk on an uneven surface or make a misstep.
Common causes of ankle pain include:
- Achilles tendinitis
- Achilles tendon rupture
- Avulsion fracture
- Bone spurs
- Broken ankle/broken foot
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Septic arthritis
- Sprained ankle
- Sprains and strains
- Stress fractures
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
When to see a doctor
Even a relatively benign ankle injury can be quite painful, at least at first. It is usually safe to try simple home remedies for a while.
Seek immediate medical attention if you:
- Have severe pain or swelling
- Have an open wound or severe deformity
- Have signs of infection, such as redness, warmth and tenderness in the affected area or a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
- Cannot put any weight at all on your foot
Schedule an office visit if you:
- Have persistent swelling that doesn’t improve at all after two to five days of home treatment
- Have persistent pain that doesn’t improve after several weeks
For many ankle injuries, self-care measures may be sufficient. Examples include:
- Rest. Keep weight off your ankle as much as possible. Take a break from your normal activities.
- Ice. Place an ice pack or bag of frozen peas on your ankle for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day.
- Compression. Use a compression bandage to reduce swelling.
- Elevation. Elevate your foot to help reduce swelling.
- Over-the-counter pain medications. Drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen (Aleve) can ease pain and aid healing.
Even with the best of care, you may have some ankle swelling, stiffness or pain, particularly first thing in the morning or after you’ve been active, for several weeks.