Ankle pain refers to any type of pain or discomfort in your ankles. This pain could be caused by an injury, like a sprain, or by a medical condition, like arthritis.
According to the National University of Health Sciences (NUHS), an ankle sprain is one of the most common causes of ankle pain — making up 85 percent of all ankle injuries. A sprain occurs when your ligaments (the tissues that connect bones) tear or get overstretched.
Most ankle sprains are lateral sprains, which occur when your foot rolls, causing your outside ankle to twist toward the ground. This action stretches or rips the ligaments.
A sprained ankle often swells and bruises for about 7 to 14 days. However, it may take a few months for a severe injury to heal fully.
Read on to learn causes of ankle pain and how to treat it.
A sprain is a common cause of ankle pain. Sprains are generally caused when the ankle rolls or twists so that the outside ankle moves toward the ground, tearing the ligaments of the ankle that hold the bones together.
Rolling the ankle can also cause damage to the cartilage or tendons of your ankle.
Pain can also be a result of:
- arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis
- nerve damage or injury, such as sciatica
- blocked blood vessels
- infection in the joint
Gout occurs when uric acid builds up in the body. This higher-than-normal concentration of uric acid (a by-product of the body’s normal breakdown of old cells) can deposit crystals in the joints, causing sharp pain.
Pseudogout is a similar condition where calcium deposits build up in the joints. Symptoms of both gout and pseudogout include pain, swelling, and redness. Arthritis can also cause ankle pain. Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints.
Multiple types of arthritis can cause pain in the ankles, but osteoarthritis is the most common. Osteoarthritis is often caused by wear and tear on the joints. The older people are, the more likely they are to develop osteoarthritis.
Septic arthritis is arthritis that’s caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. This can cause pain in the ankles, if the ankles are one of the areas infected.
For immediate at-home treatment of ankle pain, the RICE method is recommended. This includes:
- Rest. Avoid putting weight on your ankle. Try to move as little as possible for the first few days. Use crutches or a cane if you have to walk or move.
- Ice. Begin by putting a bag of ice on your ankle for at least 20 minutes at a time, with 90 minutes between icing sessions. Do this three to five times a day for 3 days after the injury. This helps reduce swelling and numb pain.
- Compression. Wrap your injured ankle with an elastic bandage, like an ACE bandage. Don’t wrap it so tightly that your ankle becomes numb or that your toes turn blue.
- Elevation. Whenever possible, keep your ankle raised above heart level on a stack of pillows or other type of support structure.
You can take over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve pain and swelling. Once your pain subsides, gently exercise your ankle by rotating it in circles. Rotate in both directions, and stop if it begins to hurt.
You can also use your hands to gently flex the ankle up and down. These exercises will return your range of motion, help reduce swelling, and speed up the recovery process.
If your ankle pain is a result of arthritis, you won’t be able to completely heal the injury. However, there are ways you can manage it. It may help to:
- use topical pain relievers
- take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation
- stay physically active and follow a fitness program focusing on moderate exercise
- practice healthy eating habits
- stretch to maintain a good range of motion in your joints
- keep your body weight within a healthy range, which will lessen stress on the joints
If lifestyle modifications and OTC treatments just aren’t cutting the pain, it might be time to look into other options.
An orthopedic shoe insert or foot or ankle brace is a great nonsurgical way to help realign your joints and keep pain and discomfort at bay. Available in different sizes and degrees of stiffness, inserts support different parts of the foot and redistribute body weight, thereby providing pain relief.
An ankle brace works much in the same way. These braces are available in different sizes and levels of support. Some can be worn with regular shoes, while others are a bit more all encompassing, resembling a cast that covers both the ankle as well as the foot.
While a few varieties might be available at the drugstore or pharmacy, it’s best to consult with a doctor to be fitted properly.
Steroid injections may be used to reduce pain and inflammation. Injections contain a medicine called corticosteroid, which reduce swelling stiffness and pain in the afflicted area.
Most injections take just a few minutes and provide relief within a few hours, while the effects are said to last from 3 to 6 months. The best part is, this is a noninvasive, nonsurgical procedure that can have you home resting on the same day.
While most ankle sprains heal with a little TLC and at-home care, it’s important to know when the injury has progressed past that point.
Those who experience extreme swelling or bruising, along with the inability to put weight or pressure on the area without significant pain, should consult a doctor.
Another general rule is to seek medication attention if there’s been no improvement during the course of the first few days.
Ankle pain is often caused by common injuries like a sprain, or medical conditions like arthritis, gout, or nerve damage. Discomfort commonly comes in the form of swelling and bruising for 1 to 2 weeks.
During that time, try to rest, elevate your foot, and ice your ankle three to five times a day for the first few days. OTC medication may provide some relief as well.
But if pain still persists after that, head to the doctor to go over all of your options, from special ankle braces and shoes to surgery.