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Swollen Outer Ankle Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated June 17, 2022

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If the outside of your ankle is swollen, this may be caused by trauma from an injury, ankle arthritis, or posterior tibialis tendinopathy. Read now for more information on swelling on outside of the ankle and treatment options.


5 swollen outer ankle causes

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the lining of the joints, causing them to become thickened and painful. It can also affect other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, eyes, and circulatory system.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system turns against itself for unknown reasons.

Most at risk are women from ages 30-60. Other risk factors are family history, smoking, and obesity.

Early symptom include warm, swollen, stiff, painful joints, especially the fingers and toes; fatigue; and fever. Usually, the same joints on both sides of the body are affected.

If untreated, irreversible joint damage and deformity can occur, with other complications. Early diagnosis can allow preventive treatment to begin as soon as possible.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests; and x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but the disease can be managed to improve quality of life. Treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; steroids; anti-rheumatic drugs; physical therapy; and sometimes surgery to repair the joints.

Reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis is a condition in which the joints become inflamed, causing pain and swelling. It is often triggered by an infection (often a gastrointestinal or genitourinary infection). It can last up to six months or a year.

You should consider visiting a healthcare provider in the next two weeks to discuss your symptoms. Your provider can evaluate for reactive arthritis with a review of your symptoms and medical history. Blood tests and imaging may also be performed. Once diagnosed, it can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications until it resolves by itself.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a complication of psoriasis, which causes the skin to become thickened, red, and scaly. Arthritis may appear before or after the psoriasis appears.

Both conditions are autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself, and are thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Most susceptible are people from 30 to 50 years of age with a family history of the disease and who already have psoriasis.

Symptoms include the joints on one or both sides of the body becoming painful, swollen, and hot; swelling and deformity of the fingers and toes; pitted, flaking fingernails; foot pain in the heels and soles; and joint pain in the low back pain.

It is important to seek treatment, as psoriatic arthritis can permanently damage the joints, eyes, and heart.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, x-rays, and MRI. Blood tests and joint fluid tests can confirm psoriatic arthritis.

Treatment includes over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; anti-rheumatic medication; immunosuppressants; and steroid injections for the joints. Surgery to replace damaged joints may also be tried.

Posterior tibialis tendinopathy

Posterior tibialis tendinopathy

The posterior tibialis tendon attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the underside of the foot. It provides stability and arch support. If this tendon is damaged, the result may be a flat, unstable foot.

Posterior tibialis tendinopathy is most often a sports injury, where the tendon becomes inflamed or torn through overuse or high impact.

Symptoms include pain down the ankle and into the foot, sometimes with swelling. The pain becomes worse with any activity, even standing or walking. When standing, the patient's arch will be collapsed and flat and the front of the foot will point outward. The patient will be unable to stand on the injured foot and raise the heel.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatment involves rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, orthotics (shoe pads,) braces, and sometimes steroid injections into the damaged tendon. Surgery can be tried, but tends to be complex and cannot always restore the tendon completely.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: swollen foot, pain in one foot, limping, pain in one ankle, spontaneous ankle pain

Symptoms that never occur with posterior tibialis tendinopathy: recent cutting accident

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Osteochondritis dissecans

Osteochondritis dissecans, also called OCD, is a joint condition. It occurs when there is not enough blood flow within the end of a bone, under the protective cartilage. These bone layers begin to die and separate from the main bone, taking the cartilage with them.

The exact cause is not known. It may be due to overtraining a young person before the bone is entirely mature, which can interfere with blood supply.

Most susceptible are children and teenagers. The condition is found most often in only one joint, usually the ankle, knee, or elbow. However, any joint can be affected and there may be more than one.

Symptoms include swelling and pain in the joint during exercise, and sometimes "locking" of the joint. Osteochondritis dissecans may lead to osteoarthritis if not treated.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging.

Treatment first involves rest because in children who are still growing, the bone and cartilage may heal spontaneously. If there are loose pieces of bone within a joint, surgery may be necessary.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: pain in one knee, knee stiffness, knee instability, knee pain that gets worse during a run, pop in the knee

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Heart failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a form of heart failure that causes fluid to back up into the lungs and other tissue. Symptoms include trouble breathing and edema (swelling of ankles, hands).

You should schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible.

Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is a general term for kidney damage caused over time by other illnesses, especially high blood pressure and diabetes. Eventually kidney function becomes impaired and wastes are no longer properly filtered from the blood, leading to serious illness.

Most susceptible are those over age 50 with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and/or a family history of kidney disease.

Symptoms include fatigue; difficulty concentrating; poor appetite; muscle cramps at night; dry, itchy skin; swollen eyes, feet, and ankles; and increased urination.

Left untreated, chronic kidney disease results in serious illness, kidney failure, and death. It is important to see a medical provider as soon as symptoms begin.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; a blood test called Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR;) ultrasound or CT scan of the kidneys; and sometimes a kidney biopsy.

Treatment includes medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and fluid retention, and a low-protein diet to reduce the work the kidneys must do. Dialysis and kidney transplant are only done if there is kidney failure.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptoms of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Broken ankle

An ankle fracture is a break in 1 or more ankle bones.

You should seek immediate medical care. The ankle will likely be splinted, but in severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

Ankle arthritis

Arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints. Because the feet and ankles have many small joints and carry the weight of the body, they are often the first place that arthritis appears.

Ankle arthritis is caused by a breakdown in the protective cartilage at the end of each joint, so that the bones begin to wear against each other and the joint becomes stiff and painful. This breakdown may be due to simple wear and tear; an injury; or from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition which causes the body to break down its own cartilage.

Symptoms include swelling, warmth, and redness in the joint, and pain with movement or with pressure on the joint.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as x-rays, CT scan, or MRI.

There is no cure for arthritis, but treatment is important because the symptoms can be managed to prevent further damage, ease pain, and improve quality of life. Treatment involves physical therapy, pain-relieving medications, and sometimes surgery to help repair damaged joints.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Acute ankle bone infection (osteomyelitis)

Osteomyelitis of the ankle is a bacterial or fungal infection of the ankle bones, typically caused by Staph Aureus (40-50% of the time). It is difficult to diagnose as the infection can come from a break in the skin at the area or anywhere else in the body that spreads by blood.

You should seek immediate medical care at an ER, where diagnosis of osteomyelitis can be established through x-rays and culturing fluids. Treatment involves antibiotics and removing the infected tissue (by surgery).

Questions your doctor may ask about swollen outer ankle

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • What is your body mass?
  • Do you have high blood pressure?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Swollen outer ankle symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced swollen outer ankle have also experienced:

  • 4% Ankle Pain
  • 4% Pain In One Ankle
  • 3% Heel Pain

People who have experienced swollen outer ankle were most often matched with:

  • 42% Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
  • 42% Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • 14% Ankle Arthritis

People who have experienced swollen outer ankle had symptoms persist for:

  • 30% Less than a week
  • 27% Over a month
  • 23% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

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