Ankle pain refers to any type of pain or discomfort in your ankles. Your ankle is an intricate network of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Although it is strong enough to bear your body weight and enable you to move, your ankle can be prone to injury and pain. This pain could be caused by any trauma, like a sprain, or by a medical condition, such as arthritis. An ankle sprain is one of the most common causes of ankle pain, making up 85 percent of all ankle injuries. A sprain occurs when your ligaments, the tissues that connect bones, tear or get overstretched. Most ankle sprains are lateral sprains, which occur when your foot rolls, causing your outside ankle to twist toward the ground. This action stretches or rips the ligaments of the ankle that hold the bones together. Rolling the ankle can also cause damage to the cartilage or tendons of your ankle. A sprained ankle often swells and bruises for about seven to fourteen days. However, it may take a few months for a severe injury to heal fully. Once healed, the sprained ankle is sometimes permanently weaker and less stable than the other ankle. The greatest risk factor for ankle sprain is having a previous ankle sprain.
You might feel the pain on the inside or outside of your ankle or along the Achilles tendon, which connects the muscles in your lower leg to your heel bone. Sometimes the pain is a sharp sticking pain and other times, the pain can be a constant, dull ache. The pain may be so intense that that you have difficulty walking, especially on uneven surfaces, or participating in sports. Ankle pain is often accompanied by swelling, stiffness, tenderness and a feeling of instability-as if the ankle is giving way.
Common causes of ankle pain include an ankle injury or sprain, or arthritis, typically osteoarthritis. Less common causes include injection or referred pain usually from a pinched nerve in the back.
The most common cause for a persistently painful ankle is incomplete healing after an ankle sprain. When you sprain your ankle, the connecting tissue between the bones is stretched or torn. With time and proper rehabilitation, most tissues will heal normally. Sometimes, the connecting ligaments and tendons in the ankle heal improperly and do not support the ankle as they were designed to do. Without thorough and complete rehabilitation, the ligament or surrounding muscles may remain weak, resulting in recurrent instability. As a result, you may experience additional ankle injuries and increased arthritic degeneration in the joint.