Ankle pain is often due to an ankle sprain but can also be caused by ankle instability, arthritis, gout, tendonitis, fracture, nerve compression (tarsal tunnel syndrome), infection and poor structural alignment of the leg or foot. Ankle pain can be associated with swelling, stiffness, redness, and warmth in the involved area. The pain is often described as an intense dull ache that occurs upon weight bearing and ankle motion.

Initial treatment may consist of rest, ice, elevation and immobilization but may also include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, physical therapy and a cortisone injection. A foot and ankle surgeon can best determine the cause of the ankle pain and appropriate treatment options.

What is ankle pain?

Ankle pain refers to any kind of pain or discomfort affecting any part of the ankle. Ankle pain can:

  • Affect one or both ankles.
  • Have a variety of causes.
  • Affect individuals of any age.
  • Prevent a person from walking.

The ankle is a complex part of the body where the tibia and fibula leg bones meet the talus foot bone.  Ligaments hold these bones together and allow movement. The ankle is especially prone to injury because of this complexity.

Who gets ankle pain?

Anyone of any age can experience ankle pain. Ankle pain is often caused by an accidental fall or sports injury. It is more common in athletes and in active men under the age of 24. In women, ankle pain is more prevalent in those over 30.

What causes ankle pain?

Ankle pain is most commonly caused by a sprain. A sprain is an injury to the ligaments connecting the ankle bones. A sprain can occur when the ankle is twisted out of its normal position, usually towards the inside of the leg, causing the ligament to overstretch or tear.

Ankle pain can also be caused by a fracture of one of the bones in the ankle. Because the fibula is quite small compared to the tibia, it is the bone that most commonly breaks. Less common causes of ankle pain include arthritis, gout, and infection.

Achilles tendonitis, or overusing the calf muscles at the back of the leg, can also cause ankle pain. This is more common in runners.

How is an ankle injury treated?

Treatment for ankle pain depends on the cause, and whether it is a sprain or fracture.

To treat ankle pain, you are usually required to stay off your foot (with the use of crutches) for a few days or weeks, depending on the extent of the injury. When reclining, you will usually be told to elevate (raise) your foot.

Your doctor may also:

  • Tell you to apply ice to your ankle up to three times a day to reduce swelling.
  • Prescribe a compression bandage to reduce swelling.
  • Advise that you take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen to help with the swelling and pain.

In cases of severe ankle injuries, surgery may be necessary.

What are the symptoms of ankle pain?

In addition to pain, an injury to the ankle will usually result in swelling, and sometimes bruising, too. Often, an individual will not be able to bear any weight on his or her ankle.

If you cannot put weight on your ankle, can see swelling or redness, or are having moderate to severe ankle pain, you should stay off of your foot and seek medical treatment as soon as possible.