Symptoms A-Z

Swollen Ankle Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your swollen ankle symptoms, including 10 causes & common questions.

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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.

Common characteristics of a swollen ankle

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 Swollen Ankle 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.

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

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 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

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

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

Swollen Ankle Symptom Checker

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

Congestive heart failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is no longer able to effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. Heart failure can affect the right side, left side, or both sides of the heart. It can be subcategorized as "heart failure with preserved ejection f...

Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is long-term damage to the kidneys, the organs responsible for producing urine. Causes of chronic kidney disease include diabetes, hypertension, kidney infections, and inflammatory diseases, medications or toxins, inherited kidney diseases, and pre...

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition which causes inflammation of the joints. In most circumstances, psoriatic arthritis presents between the ages of 30 and 50 years and occurs after the manifestation of the symptoms of psoriasis, which is a disease of the skin. Psoriatic arthritis...

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

Swollen Ankle Treatments and Relief

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 for a swollen ankle

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.

When to see a doctor for a swollen ankle

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.

When a swollen ankle is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 for symptoms of a blood clot in the leg, which includes pain, tenderness, warmth, redness, and swelling in the calf or elsewhere in the leg.

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 bodys 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

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

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

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 swollen ankle

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 were most often matched with:

  • 50% Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
  • 33% Ankle Sprain
  • 16% Ankle Arthritis

People who have experienced swollen 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 visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Swollen Ankle Symptom Checker

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

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

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.