Common Causes of Ankle Pain

Photo of woman's ankle on treadmill.
Your PT can help determine the cause of your ankle pain. Images

The ankle is one of the most commonly injured joints in the body. The entire weight of the body is supported by the ankle which makes it very vulnerable to injury. Each year, approximately 2 million patients are treated for ankle sprains and strains. Ankle fractures are also one of the most common injuries treated by orthopedists and podiatrists.

With all the ligaments, tendons, and bones that make up the ankle joint, there are many structures that can cause ankle pain and discomfort if disrupted.

A few of the most common causes of ankle pain are listed below:

  • Ankle SprainAnkle sprains are one of the more common sports injuries. A sprained ankle results when the ligaments of the ankle joint are overstretched. This results in a small or complete tear of the ligament. The degree of tear is linked directly to the severity of the sprain. Most ankle sprains occur during sport events that include running, jumping, or walking. Pain will be experienced with any movement of the ankle joint or activity that requires weight to be placed on the ankle.
  • Ankle Fracture: A fracture to one or more of your ankle bones can be a cause of significant pain. Typically ankle fractures occur often significant trauma. If you have ankle pain after any sort of trauma, check in with your doctor.
  • Achilles TendonitisIn Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War. According to legend, his entire body was invulnerable, except for his heel. Today, the large tendon on the back of the heel is known as the Achilles' tendon, after this Greek hero. Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury, meaning that repetitive use of this tendon results in little tears of the tissue. Over time, swelling and pain result. Discomfort from Achilles tendinitis is experienced in the back of the ankle.
  • Stress FractureA stress fracture is another type overuse injury that involves the bone. A stress fracture is a (tiny) crack in the bone that occurs when the bone is repeatedly subjected to forces that individually would not be expected to cause a fracture. They can occur when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock. Eventually, the fatigued muscle transfers the stress to the bone causing a tiny crack. This crack is called a stress fracture. With this disorder, pain occurs when direct pressure is placed on the affected bone or with activity that puts additional stress loading to the injured site (such as jumping).
  • ArthritisBoth osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the ankle joint. Although they are different disorders, each can result in significant discomfort and pain to the ankle region during activity and rest. Arthritis causes irritation and roughening of the articular surfaces of your ankle joint. This can make walking difficult due to pain.

Whatever the cause of ankle pain, rehabilitation of the ankle involves a step-wise manner of exercises. Initially, gentle movement of the ankle is initiated with gradual progression to resistive strengthening. Following this process is essential to achieve a complete recovery.

If you have any ankle pain, visit your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis. Then check in with your physical therapist to get back to your normal activities quickly and safely.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT

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