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, such as 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 seven to fourteen days. However, it may take a few months for
a severe injury to heal fully.
Once healed, the sprained ankle is sometimes permanently
weaker and less stable than the other ankle. According to a paper published by
the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the greatest risk factor for
ankle sprain is having a previous ankle sprain.
Causes of Ankle Pain
A sprain is a common cause of ankle pain. Pain can also be a
- arthritis (specifically osteoarthritis)
- nerve damage or injury, such as sciatica
- blocked blood vessels
- infection in the joint
A sprain is 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.
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
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 is caused by a bacterial
or fungal infection. This can cause pain in the ankles, if the ankles are one
of the areas infected.
Caring for Ankle Pain at Home
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. Do this three to five times a day
for three days after the injury. This helps reduce swelling and numb pain. Give
yourself about 90 minutes between icing sessions.
- Compression — Wrap your injured ankle
with an elastic bandage, like an ACE bandage. Do not 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
You can take over-the-counter 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 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 and help exercise your ankle,
lowering your risk of re-injury.
If your ankle pain is a result of arthritis, you will not be
able to heal or eliminate the pain. However, there are ways you can manage it.
It may help to:
- use topical pain relievers
- take NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs) 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
- keep your body weight within a healthy range,
which will lessen stress on the joints