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Swollen Ankle Symptoms

The ankles are very strong joints, yet they have the job of carrying the body's full weight while still being very flexible. That makes them vulnerable to damage and swelling, both from injuries and from any systemic illnesses you may have [1].

The stiffness and discomfort of swelling can actually serve the purpose of keeping you from using the injured body part — in this case, your ankle. This allows the foot to rest and have time to heal. Swelling can also act as something of a cast to the ankle, and provide a certain amount of support and protection for any injury that may have occurred.

Swelling caused by fluid buildup is also called edema.

Characteristics

Ankle swelling can be described by the following details:

  • Painless swelling: This may occur while the ankle remains a normal skin color, with or without the presence of redness, warmth, and discomfort in the calf of the same leg.
  • Painful swelling with bruising, but no reddening
  • Painful, reddened swelling , with or without bruising

Is a swollen ankle serious?

A swollen ankle can vary in severity depending on the cause as well as associated symptoms.

  • Not serious: Occasional, mild swelling of just one ankle may be the result of a minor, unnoticed injury and is most likely not serious as long as it resolves quickly.
  • Moderately serious: Ankle swelling that seems to be due to an injury or insect bite should be seen by a medical provider as soon as possible.
  • Serious: If the swollen ankle is accompanied by pain, redness, and swelling in the calf of the same leg, it must be seen in an emergency room as soon as possible — these are symptoms of a blood clot in the leg.

Swollen Ankle Causes

Many conditions can cause the symptom of one swollen ankle. We've listed several different causes here, in approximate order from most to least common:

Injury

A localized injury to the ankle can cause ankle swelling, such as:

  • Sprain: This is damage to the ligaments.
  • Strain: This is damage to the muscles and/or tendons.
  • Fracture of any of the bones in the ankle
  • Infection from an obvious wound
  • Infection from a small, hard-to-see injury which may not be painful

Venous insufficiency

Venous insufficiency can be associated with ankle swelling because of blood pooling. This condition prevents blood from properly flowing back up to the heart from the legs [2].

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are a common condition defined by swollen, twisted veins that can occur anywhere in the body. However, they are particularly common in the legs. They can lead to mild to moderate pain, blood clots, "heaviness" of nearby limbs, and even skin conditions such as sores (ulcers) [3].

Blood vessel blockage

If there is a blood clot somewhere in the veins of the leg, it will partially cut off the circulation and causing swelling to only that ankle. This is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately.

Allergic reaction

An allergic reaction or an ongoing allergy can cause swelling around the body, including the ankle.

  • Contact allergy: This is something that has touched your ankle, such as poison ivy, that is provoking a reaction — which can cause swelling in just that one ankle.
  • Reaction to a bug bite or sting: An insect bite or sting may also provoke swelling only in the affected ankle.
  • Food allergy: Certain food allergies or sensitivities, such as gluten intolerance in those with celiac disease, can lead to widespread inflammation and bodily swelling (edema) [4].

We've listed some specific conditions that can cause one swollen ankle, along with how to identify each of them:

10 Possible Conditions

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

  1. 1.Ankle Arthritis

    Arthritis of the ankle is a degenerative joint disorder occurring in the ankle. It presents with joint pain and stiffness that is typically worse with activity.

    Arthritis is considered irreversible, but symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment. Newer, more effective treatment options have become available in recent years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy

    Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy is the dysfunction of a tendon (muscles to bones) in the back of the foot, which can lead to having flat feet. It's unclear why exactly it happens, but might be related to poor blood flow and mechanical issues specific to the person.

    Progressive and relapsing, needing several attempts to fix the problem

    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
  3. 3.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.

    An uncomplicated ankle sprain should improve in 3-6 weeks.

    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
  4. 4.Cellulitis

    Facial cellulitis is a skin infection that typically comes from other parts of the face like the mouth or the sinuses and needs antibiotic treatment. Symptoms can be pain, redness, warmth and swelling of the affected area.

    Dependent on severity of infection

    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
  5. 5.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  6. 6.Congestive 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)

    This is a lifelong condition but symptoms can be managed.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, cough at night, shortness of breath on exertion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Chronic Kidney Disease

    Chronic kidney disease, also known as chronic renal failure, is a disorder caused by gradual loss of kidney function. It is most common in elderly individuals.

    This condition cannot be reversed; however, treatment can delay or stop the disease from worsening.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, decreased sex drive, dry skin
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Psoriatic Arthritis

    Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. Some people who have psoriasis also get a form of arthritis (inflammation and swelling of joints) called psoriatic arthritis.

    This type of arthritis can be managed with treatment, and permanent damage can be prevented. However, the underlying cause (psoriasis) is currently incurable.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain, lower back pain, joint pain, upper back pain, hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.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.

    Bruises tend to begin healing within one week.

    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
  10. 10.Gout

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

    With proper medical attention, relief is possible within the first 24 hours of treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    swollen toes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Swollen Ankle Treatments, Relief and Prevention

As long as your ankle swelling is not debilitating or you do not experience any other symptoms of concern, it can likely be dealt with at home. However, if the swelling persists, you should consult your physician.

At-home treatments

There are various treatments you can try at home in order to help alleviate ankle swelling [3,5].

  • Wear loose clothing: Make sure that clothes, socks, and shoes are not too tight.
  • Wear special compression stockings: Unlike tight clothing in general, these are uniquely created to aid circulation.
  • Elevate your ankle: You should keep the swollen ankle propped up whenever you are sitting or lying down.
  • Increase exercise: This is to drive fluid out of the lower extremities. Do not sit for longer than two hours at a time without getting up and moving around.
  • Improve diet: This is to ease any problems with fluid retention. Eliminate any common allergens such as gluten or dairy products or try to limit your consumption.
  • Drink extra water: This is to help thin the blood and prevent abnormal clotting. Though it may seem counterintuitive, this can help to stop fluid retention.
  • Aspirin: You can try to take a low-dose aspirin (baby aspirin), which is a mild blood thinner.

Medical treatments

If conservative methods do not provide relief, you should consult your physician regarding the following:

  • Infection or fracture: Pain and redness in the swollen ankle can indicate an infection or fracture, which requires professional treatment.
  • Blood thinners: These can help prevent abnormal blood clotting if you are at risk.
  • Diuretics (water pills): These can help rid the body of excess fluid.

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 for the following

If you experience the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention.

  • A blood clot in the leg: Symptoms of a blood clot in the leg include pain, tenderness, warmth, redness, and swelling in the calf or elsewhere in the leg and is considered a medical emergency.

FAQs About Swollen Ankle

Here are some frequently asked questions about swollen ankle.

Why does my ankle swell after a flight?

Most ankle swelling following a flight is harmless and is due to inactivity. Being seated for a prolonged period leads to blood pooling in your legs due to gravity. When blood pools in your legs, you may get swelling as some of the water in your veins leaves to the tissues of your ankles. This swelling should go away with activity or with elevating your legs. If you experience one-sided lower leg swelling with pain, this may be indicative of a more serious condition like a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) and you should immediately see a physician.

Do certain medications cause ankle swelling?

Yes, some medications may lead to ankle swelling. This is most commonly associated with a blood pressure medication category called “calcium-channel blockers.” Amlodipine is one example of this medication. Other medications that cause ankle swelling include the anti-diabetes medication pioglitazone, minoxidil, and hydralazine. Alpha-blockers such as prazosin, which are often used for BPH, also rarely cause ankle swelling due to dilation of the veins in the legs, leading to more fluids leaving the blood into the tissues.

Why do I have a swollen ankle after giving birth?

Pregnancy is marked by an incredible shift in your body’s biology as you must support both yourself and your baby with the same organs. Your blood volume increases and your heart pumps more blood to your body and to the baby developing in your uterus. After you give birth, your body must return to its normal state and reduce the amount of blood again. Your kidneys work to get rid of the fluid (as urine), but in the meantime, some of the excess fluid leaves the veins into your tissues (mostly in your hands and feet). The hormonal shifts of pregnancy can cause ankle swelling as well.

When should you seek medical attention for a swollen ankle?

Most ankle swelling is harmless and due to positioning and inactivity leading to blood pooling in your legs. However, you should seek medical attention if your ankle swelling is following an injury, is painful, or occurring only on one side. Ankle swelling with leg pain on one side may be indicative of a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). You should also consider seeing a doctor if you have ankle swelling on both sides that does not go away with elevation or is progressively getting worse.

Can a swollen ankle be a sign of menopause?

Yes, a swollen ankle can be a sign of menopause. During menopause, your body stops producing as much estrogen. During the transition to menopause, your estrogen levels may fluctuate rapidly, leading to some ankle swelling. Most women experience menopause after age 45, and note other symptoms such as decreased and irregular menstrual periods, hot flashes, sleep disturbance, vaginal dryness, mood changes, and joint pain.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Ankle

  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Is your swollen area warm and red?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our swollen ankle symptom checker to find out more.

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Swollen Ankle Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced swollen ankle have also experienced:

    • 5% Ankle Pain
    • 4% Pain in One Ankle
    • 3% Swollen Foot
  • People who have experienced swollen ankle had symptoms persist for:

    • 30% Less Than a Week
    • 27% Over a Month
    • 23% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced swollen ankle were most often matched with:

    • 50% Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
    • 33% Ankle Sprain
    • 16% Ankle Arthritis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Martin LJ. Foot, Leg, and Ankle Swelling. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated May 21, 2017. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Chronic Venous Insufficiency. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  3. Varicose Veins. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NHLBI Link
  4. Djuric Z, Kamenov B, Katic V. Celiac Disease Manifested by Polyneuropathy and Swollen Ankles. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2007;13(18):2636-2638. NCBI Link
  5. Edema. FamilyDoctor.org. Updated June 21, 2017. FamilyDoctor.org Link