An introduction to ankle pain
Ankle pain is a term that describes pain or discomfort in the ankles. It may result from a sprain, an injury, arthritis, or other medical conditions.
A study by the National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) says that ankle pain is most commonly caused by ankle sprain – at least 85 percent of all ankle injuries are due to the sprain. A sprain occurs when the ligaments are overstretched or tear off. The ligaments are tissues that link the bones to each other.
Most ankle sprains are lateral sprains. They occur when the foot rolls, causing the ankle to twist toward the ground. This results in a stretch or ripping of the ligaments. When an ankle sprains, it swells and bruises for at least one to two weeks. However, full recovery may take a few months. Once it is healed, the sprained ankle becomes weaker or less stable than the other ankle. A study by the American Academy of Family Physicians says that the greatest risk factor for an ankle sprain is having a previously sprained ankle.
What causes ankle pain?
Ankle pain is mostly caused by sprains. This pain may also be caused by:
- Arthritis (especially osteoarthritis)
- Blocked vascular tissues
- Nerve injury or damage, such as sciatica
- Joint infections
You will have a sprain when your ankle twists and rolls so that the exterior part of the ankle moves towards the ground. This tears off the ligaments of the ankle that holds the bones in place. The tendons and cartilage of the ankle can also be damaged when one rolls the ankle.
Gout occurs when uric acid accumulates in the body. Uric acid is due to the breakdown of old cells in the body. Accumulation of uric acid in the body deposits crystals in the ankle joints, and other joints, causing sharp pain. A similar condition is known pseudogout where calcium deposits accumulate in the joints. Psudogout and gout are characterized by symptoms such as redness, swelling and pain.
Ankle pain can also be caused by arthritis. Arthritis is simply an inflammation of the joints. Ankle pain can be caused by many kinds of arthritis. However, the most common is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs due to wear and tear on the joints. The older a person gets, the higher the risk of developing osteoarthritis. This can cause pain in the ankles if the ankles are one of the areas infected. Sometimes, arthritis may be caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. This is referred to as septic arthritis. This causes pain in the ankles if the ankles are infected by the bacteria.
Home care for ankle pain
Immediate care for ankle pain can be done using the RICE method. The rice method includes:
- Rest: Do not place too much weight on your ankle. Do not move too frequently for the first few days. Use a can or crutches if you want to move around.
- Ice: You may begin by applying a bag of ice to the sprained ankle. Allow the ice to remain there for at least 20 minutes. Do this three to five times daily for three days after the injury. This will numb the pain and also reduce the swelling. Allow yourself a 90-minute break between icing sessions.
- Compression: Use an elastic bandage, such as the ACE bandage to wrap your injured ankle. Do not wrap it tightly so that your ankle gets numb or your toes turn blue in color.
- Elevation: When possible, allow your ankle to remain above your heart level. You can do this by placing the ankle on a stack of pillows or other raised structure.
OTC medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used to relieve swelling and pain.
Once the pain subsides, exercise your ankle gently by rotating it in circles. Always rotate in both directions, and stop if it hurts. You may also use your hands to flex the ankle in a very gentle manner. These exercise will change your range of motion and help exercise your ankle, minimizing your risk or re-injuring yourself.
If arthritis is the cause of your ankle pain, you may not be able to eliminate or heal the pain. You may however manage it in different ways:
- Making use of topical pain relievers
- Exercising yourself and adopting a fitness program with emphasis on moderate exercise.
- Eat a balanced diet consistently
- Use NSAIDs to reduce swelling, pain and inflammation
- Maintain a healthy body weight. This will reduce the stress on your joints
- Stretch frequently. This will help maintain a good range of motion in your joints.