Ankle pain refers to any type of pain or discomfort in the ankle. This pain can be caused by an injury such as a sprain or a medical condition such as arthritis. Ankle sprains are one of the most common causes of ankle pain, accounting for 85% of ankle injuries. A sprain occurs when a ligament (the tissue that connects bones) is torn or overstretched.
Most ankle sprains are lateral sprains, which occur when the foot rotates and twists the ankle sideways toward the ground. This action causes stretching and tearing of ligaments.
A sprained ankle is often swollen and bruised for 7 to 14 days. However, it can take several months for a severe injury to fully heal.
Home care for ankle pain
The RICE method is recommended for immediate treatment of ankle pain at home. It includes:
Rest- Avoid putting weight on your ankles. Try to move as little as possible in the first few days. Use a cane if you need to walk or move.
Ice- Leave the ice pack on for at least 20 minutes each time and 90 minutes between ice sessions. Do 3 to 5 times a day for 3 days after the injury. This can reduce pain from swelling and numbness.
Compression- Wrap the affected ankle compression with an elastic bandage such as ACE bandage. Don’t twist so hard that your ankles go numb, or your toes turn blue.
Elevation- If possible, keep your ankles above heart level with a pillow or other type of support structure.
You can use over the counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to help relieve pain and swelling. After the pain subsides, gently rotate the ankle in a circular motion. Twist in both directions and stop when it starts to hurt.
You can also use your hands to gently bend the ankle up and down. These exercises help restore range of motion, reduce swelling, and speed up the healing process.
When ankle pain is the result of arthritis, the injury cannot be completely treated. However, there are ways to manage it. The following may help:
- Use topical pain relievers
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation
- Keep your body active and follow a fitness program that focuses on moderate exercise
- Practice a healthy diet
- Ensure joint range of motion by stretching
- Keep your weight in a healthy range and reduce the stress on your joints
How common is ankle pain?
Ankle pain and ankle injuries are very common. If:
- I am over 65 years old.
- Exercise or participate in activities that involve jumping, side-to-side movements, or sudden turns.
How do healthcare providers determine the cause of ankle pain?
Your provider will examine your ankles and feet. Your provider will check for swelling, pain, and bruising. The test depends on where the pain is and whether you have had a recent injury. Your health care provider may order imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans. These tests create images of bone and soft tissue so providers can see any damage.
If your doctor determines that you have an infection, a biopsy may be needed. A healthcare provider takes a sample of the tissue and sends it to a lab to check for bacteria.
Contact Houston Spine & Joint Pain Consultants in Texas if you are experiencing any symptoms stated above.
How do health care providers treat ankle pain?
Most ankle injuries heal with home care. More severe injuries may require surgery. Treatment depends on the cause of ankle pain. Common treatments for ankle pain include:
- Braces and Splints: Ankle braces help relieve pain and stabilize the ankle. Some braces are suitable for specific activities. Ask your service provider to recommend the best method for your lifestyle.
- Joint aspiration: In this procedure, a healthcare provider inserts a needle into the joint to remove excess fluid. Joint suction relieves pain and swelling.
- Medications: Several medications can reduce inflammation and relieve ankle pain. Arthritis and gout medications can greatly reduce pain and swelling.
- Orthotic inserts: Orthotics are inserts that are placed in shoes. It can be purchased at a store or custom made for your foot by a provider. The insole supports and stabilizes the foot to ensure proper alignment.
- Physical therapy (PT): A customized PT program can help improve flexibility and strengthen the muscles that support the ankle. Your physical therapist will create a PT program with exercises and stretches designed for you. Do regular exercises and stretching exercises.
- Steroid injection: A healthcare provider uses a needle to inject an anti-inflammatory medication directly into the joint. Cortisone injection reduces inflammation and pain.
- Surgery: Various ankle surgeries can repair torn ligaments and tendons. Some options relieve arthritis pain or correct the flatness of the soles of the feet. Ankle replacement surgery can relieve pain and restore function.
When to consult a doctor
While most ankle sprains heal with a little TLC and at-home care, it’s important to know when the injury has progressed past that point.
Those who experience extreme swelling or bruising, along with the inability to put weight or pressure on the area without significant pain, should consult a doctor.
Another general rule is to seek medication attention if there’s been no improvement during the first few days.