Symptoms A-Z

Ankle Pain Causes & Treatment For Ankle Pain Symptoms

Understand your ankle pain symptoms with Buoy, including 9 causes and treatment options concerning your ankle pain.

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Ankle Pain Symptoms

You love your morning jogs. Watching the sun rise as the wind blows through your hair seems to center you for the day. But one day, your foot lands strangely, slips out from under you, and you're stuck on the sidewalk with an ankle that's just not right.

Are you rankled by ankle pain symptoms? Ankle pain can be felt on the inner side of the ankle, on the outer area, in line with the Achilles tendon, and sometimes radiating near the upper part of the foot.

Common characteristics and accompanying symptoms of ankle pain

If you're experiencing ankle pain, it is also likely to experience:

The ankle is a tricky little thing. It also bears plenty of your body's weight. Its health and ability to function are crucial to everyday activities and comfort.

The ankle is an important joint, connecting the lower leg bones to the foot bones. It is divided into the lower ankle and upper ankle. The lower ankle allows your foot to tilt to the side and turn outwards and inwards. The upper ankle lets you move your feet up and down.

Whether you injure the joint, a bone, the upper ankle, or the lower, the associated pain can literally stop you in your tracks. Most causes of ankle pain are treatable though. With a little time, you can be back to your normal activities.

Ankle Pain Causes

Causes of ankle pain can be broken down into two main categories -- injuries or trauma and medical conditions, including infection. Listed below are the most common ankle pain causes [1].

Injury or trauma-related ankle pain causes

Ankle pain may be due to trauma or injury to the area.

  • Sprains, strains, and fractures: These are the most commonly reported causes of ankle pain. Any of these can happen if one suddenly changes his or her position when moving. Accidents can likewise be a culprit. Falling or colliding with another individual or objects can injure your ankle. Athletes are more prone to this cause.
  • Rupture of the Achilles tendon: A damage in the Achilles tendon due to stressful activities can cause severe pain in the ankle. There is also an inability to move the toes and walk [2].

Medical ankle pain causes

Medical conditions or other illnesses may result in ankle pain, such as the following.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disease of the joints commonly affects the ankle. The immune system attacks the synovium, which acts as a protective membrane lining the joints. This causes severe inflammation and pain [3].
  • Gout: An increased uric acid level in the body will cause a deposition of crystals in the joint. This is very painful [4].
  • Infection: Bacterial joint inflammation is a serious condition and causes severe pain in the ankle joint. This is often referred to as septic arthritis [5]. Bacteria gets into the joint and causes severe cartilage destruction and bone damage. If not treated, it can lead to septic shock.

Whether you're incredibly active or spend most nights on the couch, an ankle injury can happen to anyone. If you find yourself with an ankle that's not cooperating, it's time to look into treatments.

9 Possible Ankle Pain Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced ankle pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

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.

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

Broken ankle

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

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: difficulty walking, constant ankle pain, swollen ankle, pain in one ankle, ankle pain from an injury

Symptoms that always occur with broken ankle: pain in one ankle, swollen ankle, ankle pain from an injury, constant ankle pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Ankle sprain

Ankle ligaments, which connect bones to one another, stabilize the ankle joint. A sprain is an injury to the ligaments caused by a twisting motion of the joint.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one ankle, ankle pain from an injury, swollen ankle, bruised ankle, ankle twisting

Symptoms that always occur with ankle sprain: pain in one ankle, ankle pain from an injury

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache

Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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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

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

Ankle bruise

A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the ankle are common, often due to minor injury.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: constant ankle pain, pain in one ankle, ankle pain from an injury, recent ankle injury, swollen ankle

Symptoms that always occur with ankle bruise: ankle pain from an injury, recent ankle injury, constant ankle pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Gout

Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden pain, stiffness, and swelling in a joint. The big toe is often affected.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swollen toes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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.

Symptom 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

Ankle Pain Treatments and Relief

When to see a doctor for ankle pain

See a doctor if you're experiencing any of the following:

  • Severe swelling
  • Intense pain
  • Open wounds
  • Noticeable deformity
  • Signs of infection
  • Unable to put weight on affected foot

When managing ankle pain symptoms, consider both treatments and preventive measures. Both can help ease your pain.

At-home ankle pain treatments

You can begin addressing your ankle pain symptoms at home while you recover or wait for an appointment.

  • RICE Method: If the pain is due to an injury, provide first aid to control the swelling and pain. Rest the ankle. Put ice on for about 20 minutes and repeat three times daily. Compress the ankle, but not too tightly, by putting on an elastic bandage. Elevate the ankle above the heart level.
  • Medications: Ankle pain can be treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, analgesics, and other OTC pain relievers.
  • Devices: Crutches and walkers are helpful for mobility and rest.
  • Therapy: Exercises facilitated by a physical therapist can help restore the ankle's strength and flexibility.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery can be necessary for the reconstruction of damaged ligaments and fractured bones.

Preventive measures for ankle pain

Try the following methods to help prevent ankle pain and injury.

  • Watch your step closely when walking, particularly on uneven surfaces
  • Warm up before doing any strenuous exercises or sports
  • Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes
  • Exercise and stretch regularly
  • Watch your weight
  • Eat a balanced diet

Free yourself from ankle pain by knowing its symptoms, causes, and treatment. You'll be back on two healthy feet in no time.

FAQs About Ankle Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about ankle pain.

Can bunions cause ankle pain?

Generally, bunions do not cause ankle pain. A bunion is a deformity of the big toe in which the toe is deformed outward and the joint protrudes inward [6]. Studies have been performed on whether bunions are associated with any particular injury of the foot. While some authors have drawn those conclusions, it has not been conclusively proven. It is possible, however, that bunions affect balance which may lead to falls in the elderly.

What causes ankle pain without swelling?

Ankle pain without swelling can be caused by a stress fracture of an ankle bone or partial ligament tear causing instability of the ankle. Swelling is caused by traumatic damage to the cells of tissue within the body. As the contents of the cells spill out, they can cause the body to send in immune cells to clean and repair the wound. This requires swelling to "make space" for the immune cells.

Why would someone experience ankle pain while walking?

Ankle pain while walking may be due to swelling and an increase in inflammation following a mild injury to the ligaments, joints, or bones of the ankle. The most common of these conditions are ankle sprains (partial ruptures of a ligament), arthritis, or inflammation of the tendon (tendinitis).

Will insoles help relieve ankle pain?

This depends on the cause of ankle pain. If ankle pain is caused by an excessive motion of the foot (inversion, eversion, pronation, or supination) then an insole can take stress off the foot and decrease repetitive stress injury. Other causes of ankle pain include ankle fractures or sprains and plantar fasciitis [6]. Ankle fractures need medical evaluation and stabilization to ensure strong healing. Plantar fasciitis is worsened by a flat shoe but can be improved significantly by stretching, avoiding flat shoes or barefoot walking, and silicone insoles.

Can ankle pain be related to back pain?

Yes, ankle, knee, and hip pain can all contribute independently to back pain. Each of the joints is designed to direct the force of gravity to another point on the next joint that is designed to bear the pressure. If one of the joints is out of alignment, the entire structure of bones and cartilage can suffer increased wear and tear causing pain in the hips or back.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Ankle Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • How would you explain your ankle pain?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • What is your body mass?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your ankle pain

Ankle Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced ankle pain have also experienced:

  • 12% Lower Leg Pain
  • 10% Upper Leg Pain
  • 9% Knee Pain

People who have experienced ankle pain were most often matched with:

  • 66% Broken Ankle
  • 22% Ankle Sprain
  • 11% Ankle Arthritis

People who have experienced ankle pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 33% Over a month
  • 26% Less than a week
  • 21% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Ankle Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your ankle pain

References

  1. Arthritis and Diseases that Affect the Ankle. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation
  2. Achilles Tendon Rupture (Tear). OrthoInfo. Published May 2012. OrthoInfo Link
  3. Weatherford BM. Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Published September 2017. OrthoInfo Link
  4. Gout. MedlinePlus. Published March, 2016. Medline link
  5. Haddad SL. Bunions. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Published February 2016. OrthoInfo Link
  6. Plantar Fasciitis. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. AOFAS Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.