Overview

Your ankle is a complex grouping of bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. It supports your weight while standing, walking, and running. It’s quite common for injuries or conditions to affect your ankle and this can cause pain while walking.

What may cause general ankle pain when walking?

Most ankle pain is caused by an injury to the ankle during physical activity. There are a few conditions that could cause ankle pain while walking as well.

Conditions

Some conditions that can cause ankle or foot pain when you place weight on your ankle include:

  • Gout. Gout is a type of arthritis. It occurs when uric acid doesn’t dissolve into your blood like it’s supposed to. Instead, it crystalizes, accumulates in your joints, and causes pain. You may first notice pain in your big toe which may then move to your ankle, heel, and other joints.
  • Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It’s caused by a breakdown of the cartilage in your joints. This may be the cause of your ankle pain, especially if you’re older, overweight, or have previously injured your ankle.
  • Peripheral neuropathy. Damage to your peripheral nerves can cause pain in your ankles while walking. Nerve damage can be caused by tumors, trauma, infections, or disease.

Injuries

Ankle injuries can occur during any kind of activity, even just walking. Injuries that commonly result in ankle pain include:

  • Bruising. If you’ve severely bumped your ankle, such as from a hit or kick, it may cause pain while walking. Typically, pain from this type of trauma will go away in two to three weeks.
  • Sprain or strain. Sprains and strains occur from an injury to the softer tissues in your ankle. This could be a strained ligament or tendon. Usually, a sprain or strain will heal in a few weeks.
  • Fractures or breaks. If a bone is broken or fractured, you’ll likely have intense pain when walking. Breaks are usually accompanied by swelling, redness, or loss of feeling in toes. Ankle breaks can take weeks or months to heal completely and usually require a doctor’s care. Breaks can also set the stage for arthritis later in life.

What causes pain in the back of your ankle or heel when walking?

Pain in the back of your ankle, similar to pain in any part of your ankle, could be caused by a break, fracture, sprain, or strain. However, there are a few specific conditions more likely to cause pain in the back of your ankle or heel.

Achilles tendon rupture

Achilles tendon ruptures typically occur if you’re active or participating in a vigorous sport. It occurs when your Achilles tendon is torn or ruptured. It’s most likely due to an injury such as falling or accidently stepping into a hole while walking or running on uneven ground.

Symptoms include:

  • calf pain
  • pain and swelling near your heel
  • inability to bear weight on your toes

Preventing rupture may involve:

  • running on softer, level surfaces
  • avoiding rapid increases in training intensity
  • stretching before exercising

Heel bursitis

A bursa is a pocket and lubricant that acts like a cushion around a joint. There’s a bursa that protects the back of your ankle and heel. It helps to shield your Achilles tendon. It can burst with overuse or strenuous activity.

Symptoms include:

  • pain in your heel
  • pain when standing on your toes
  • swollen or red skin on the back of your heel

Treatment includes:

  • avoiding painful activities
  • ice or cold compresses
  • over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Achilles tendinitis

Along with a rupture, Achilles tendinitis is caused by an injury to the Achilles tendon. Overuse or intense strain can cause the band that connects your calf muscle to your heel bone to stretch, resulting in tendinitis.

Symptoms include:

  • stiffness
  • tenderness
  • mild or severe pain in back of ankle and calf

Treatment includes rest and self-care, such as elevation and hot or cold compresses.

What’s the outlook?

If you have extreme ankle pain when walking, you should seek medical help. It’s likely that you may have damaged your ankle or Achilles tendon.

If your pain is minor and you can recall twisting your ankle or tripping, you may have a sprain. These will usually heal in one to two weeks with ice, elevation, and proper rest. Speak with your doctor if your pain doesn’t subside or if you’re concerned.