Ankle pain can refer to any type of localized pain or discomfort in the ankles . This pain can be caused by an injury, such as a sprain, or by a medical condition, such as arthritis.

According to the National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) , ankle sprain is one of the most common causes of ankle pain . This accounts for 85 percent of all ankle injuries. A sprain occurs when ligaments (the tissues that connect bones) are torn or overstretched.

Most ankle sprains are lateral sprains, which occur when the foot twists, meaning the outside of the ankle turns toward the ground. This movement stretches or tears the ligaments .

A sprained ankle often swells and bruises for about 7 to 14 days. However, a serious injury can take a few months to fully heal.

Read on to learn what causes ankle pain and how to treat it.

Conditions whose symptoms may include ankle pain

A sprain is a common cause of ankle pain. Sprains generally occur when the ankle twists or twists so that the outside of the ankle moves toward the ground, tearing the ankle ligaments that hold the bones together.

Twisting your ankle can also damage the cartilage or tendons of the ankle.

Pain can also be the result of:

  • Arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Nerve damage or injury, such as sciatica
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Joint infection

Gout occurs when uric acid builds up in the body. This higher-than-normal uric acid concentration (a byproduct of the body’s normal breakdown of old cells) can deposit crystals in the joints, causing severe pain .

Pseudogout is a similar condition in which calcium deposits build up in the joints. Symptoms of both gout and pseudogout include pain, swelling, and redness . Arthritis can also cause ankle pain. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints.

Several types of arthritis can cause ankle pain, but osteoarthritis is the most common. Osteoarthritis is often caused by wear and tear on the joints. Older people are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.

Septic arthritis is arthritis caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. This can cause pain in the ankles, if the ankles are one of the infected areas.

Treat ankle pain at home

For immediate treatment of ankle pain from home, the RICE method is recommended. This includes:

  • Rest. Avoid putting weight on your ankle. Try to move as little as possible during the first few days. Use crutches or a cane if you have to walk or move.
  • Ice. Start by placing an ice pack on your ankle for at least 20 minutes at a time, with 90 minutes between sessions. Do this three to five times a day for 3 days after the injury. This helps reduce swelling and pain.
  • Compression . Wrap your injured ankle with an elastic bandage.
  • Elevation. Whenever possible, keep your ankle elevated above heart level on a pile of pillows or other supportive structures.

You can also use your hands to gently flex your ankle up and down. These exercises will restore your range of motion, help reduce swelling, and speed up the recovery process.

If your ankle pain is the result of arthritis, you won’t be able to fully heal the injury. However, there are ways to handle the situation. This can help:

  • Using topical pain relievers
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Staying physically active and following a fitness program that focuses on moderate exercise
  • Practice healthy eating habits
  • Stretching to maintain a good range of motion in your joints.
  • Keeping your body weight within a healthy range, which will decrease stress on the joints.

Ankle pain treatment options

If lifestyle modifications and over-the-counter treatments just don’t relieve pain, it might be time to look at other options.

An orthotic shoe insert or foot or ankle brace is a great non-surgical way to help realign your joints and keep pain and discomfort at bay . These are available in different sizes and degrees of stiffness, and support different parts of the foot and redistribute body weight, providing pain relief.

An anklet works the same way. These braces are available in different sizes and levels of support. Some can be worn with normal shoes, while others are slightly wider and resemble a cast that covers both the ankle and the foot. 

When to see a doctor

While most ankle sprains heal with a little TLC and home care, it is important to know when the injury has progressed beyond that point.

Those experiencing extreme swelling or bruising , along with the inability to put weight or pressure on the area without feeling significant pain, should see a doctor.

Another general rule of thumb is to seek medical attention if there has been no improvement in the first few days.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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