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The 7 Main Causes of Ankle Pain and How to Fix Them

The 7 Main Causes of Ankle Pain and How to Fix Them

Posted 28 Jun

Whether chronic or injury-related, ankle pain is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives. But despite it being one of the most commonly felt aches and pains, it isn’t an area that is necessarily cared for until it becomes a problem. So today, we wanted to take you through five of the most common causes of ankle pain. We’ll give you an insight into how they cause acute and ongoing ankle pain as well as ways to treat and prevent them from happening in the first place. 


Cause 1: Stress fracture 


How does it cause ankle pain? 

You might hear ‘fracture’ and freak out. It sounds very serious. Stress fractures, however, build up over time - a slow ascent of pain through continued use and repetitive movement patterns. Hairline fissures in the ankle, specifically the tibia, talus and fibula, will continue to worsen when weight is bared on them. This can, in turn, increase the level of ankle pain and start to disrupt your normal day-to-day activities. 


How to treat it 

This might seem obvious, but the first step is to simply stop doing any movements that exacerbate the pain. Then, if you suspect it is a stress fracture (as it is localised to your ankle area) book in to see a podiatrist. A podiatrist can do a full examination and refer you for imaging to get a clearer picture of the severity of the stress fracture. From here recommendations can include rest, cushioned soles of shoes to support your ankle healing and ankle mobility exercises.  Talk to our Brisbane podiatry team about how we can help speed up your recovery. 


Cause 2: Osteoarthritis 


How does it cause ankle pain? 

Osteoarthritis is felt specifically in the joints. This most common form of arthritis occurs when joints change shape or structure in the repair process. These changes wear down the cartilage (a slippery surface that allows the bones to move) causing inflammation, stiffness and pain in and around the ankle. As a result, if left untreated osteoarthritis in the ankle can affect the bones, tendons and joint lining too. 


How to treat it 

Whilst every case of osteoarthritis is different, treatments can include exercises and stretches to strengthen the area, weight management and wearing specialist footwear to support the acute pain. The key to osteoarthritis is promoting healthy ranges of movement as this will prevent the ankle from freezing up. Working with a podiatrist, you can ascertain a recovery programme that will seek to eradicate the complications that come with osteoarthritis.  

Cause 3: Achilles tendinopathy 


How does it cause ankle pain?

The Achilles tendon links your heel bone with your back calf muscles. Achilles tendinopathy usually happens gradually over time due to overuse or tight calf muscles from lack of stretching but can happen suddenly too. This causes micro-tears in the tendon, degenerating over time. If left untreated, it can not only cause pain but can restrict you from bearing any weight on the affected ankle or weaken the tendon until it partially or completely tears. 

 

How to treat it 

Treatments vary on the severity of the Achilles tendinopathy and acute pain. Stretching is not recommended as this creates unnecessary pressure on the tendon. It can be managed at home with icing, compression, supportive footwear, elevation, and rest. However, your local podiatrist can seek to introduce novel ways to stimulate tendon regeneration such as individualised loading programs, heel lifts, shock wave therapy, foot mobilisation therapy, and or custom foot orthotics. 


Cause 4: Rheumatoid arthritis 


How does it cause ankle pain?  

Rheumatoid arthritis is the less common but chronic form of arthritis. The inflammatory disorder can also affect body systems other than the joints - the body essentially attacks its tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and a resulting stiffness in the ankle joint. Continual or frequent flare-ups can cause the joint to also change shape, leading to further pain caused by added tension on the surrounding tendons and cartilage. 


How to treat it 

Whilst there is no one cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are several ways to help treat symptoms. Outside of those with a podiatrist, some sufferers report that an anti-inflammatory diet, medication and movement all have an important part to play in chronic pain management. In addition, your podiatrist may be able to help reduce pain with orthotic therapy to reduce areas of high pressure that cause pain on the joints, wax baths to soothe a flare-up, specific exercises to maintain mobility and reduce stiffness and strengthen muscles surrounding the ankle. 


Cause 5: Sever’s disease 


How does it cause ankle pain?  

Sever’s disease is irritation of the growth plate at the back of the heel bone where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel. This is seen in growing children during growth spurts. Symptoms usually flare up with use such as playing sports but tend to calm down with rest. 


How to treat it 

To support our kids to be active, healthy, and having fun we must treat the symptoms until the growth plate fuses to the heel bone. It is important not to stretch as this tends to aggravate symptoms. Rest and icing can help with pain management. In addition, a podiatrist can offer footwear advice, heel lifts, orthotic therapy, and exercises that look to maintain ankle mobility to alleviate pain. 


Cause 6: Ligament strain or tears


How does it cause ankle pain? 

This is one of the most common injuries - either seen in sport or just in day to day life. A strain or tear commonly occurs when you roll or twist your ankle. Depending on the severity of the roll or twist, will depend on the level of injury and pain you’ll experience. The ligaments bind together the individual bones in your ankle joint. They not only connect your tibia and fibula bones but also work to stabilise the foot. The most common form of injury is caused by the foot twisting inward. This causes all of your body weight to rest on your lateral ligaments, straining your middle and anterior fibres. Less common ligament injuries occur with strains to the upper ankle - these are often more severe, damaging the tough ligaments on the external 


How to treat it 

Do not put weight on the injured ankle for at least 24-48 hours, ice and elevate. If you heard a crunch or pop paired with intense shooting pain, this might signal a more serious problem. Either way, it’s always vital to go and see a health professional or podiatrist to help point you towards the correct treatment. This might include rehabilitation exercises, restrengthening the surrounding muscles, continued RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) or surgery if the injury is more severe. 


Cause 7: Anterior ankle impingement (AKA Footballers ankle) 


How does it cause ankle pain? 

This is a common cause of pain for footballers and other athletes - hence the name. It occurs when the front and anterior aspect of the ankle joint is repeatedly compressed. This results in joint capsule synovium pinching, inflaming the soft tissue around the ankle. It might be a single ankle sprain, repeated sprains or deep squatting movements that feel like the ‘trigger’ but the impingement can increase in pain over time. 


How to treat it 

As with any ankle injury, acute therapy involves resting and icing the area. You should then book in to see your local podiatrist who will be able to give you further guidance. Together you’ll work on strategies to improve your range of motion, restore muscle strength, power, speed and agility. Essentially you’ll be working back up to the high impact movements that likely caused the impingement with better form and increased muscle strength. 



We hope we’ve been able to help you better understand the potential sources of your ankle pain and ways to treat them. As with any injury, aches and pains, we would recommend booking in to see a registered health professional or podiatrist. If you’d like to book in with one of our highly qualified experts, get in touch. Or, to find out more about the inner workings of your feet, ankles and toes, check out the rest of our blogs.

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