Your ankle helps to balance and stabilize
your body. It’s made up of bones that are supported with muscles and ligaments.
Ankle disorders can result from damage to
bone, muscle, or soft tissue. Common ankle disorders include:
- sprains (injury to ligaments)
- tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons)
- arthritis (chronic inflammation of joints)
The ankle is the most frequently injured
joint in the body. According to research published by the Walter Reed Medical Center,
more than 20,000 ankle sprains occur each day in the United States.
What causes ankle disorders?
The causes of ankle disorders vary, and can
include running, jumping, and overuse. Other common causes of ankle sprains and
- twisting or rotating the ankle beyond the normal range of motion
- tripping or falling
- landing on the foot with increased force
Other injuries that can lead to tendonitis in the ankle or Achilles tendonitis can be caused
- lack of conditioning for the muscles in the leg and foot
- excess strain on the Achilles tendon, the tendon that connects
your calf muscles to your heel
- bone spurs in the heel that rub on the Achilles tendon
- untreated flat feet leading to additional stress on the posterior
Different types of arthritis (inflammation of
joints and tissues) can also affect the foot and ankle:
- Osteoarthritis is a degenerative type of arthritis that typically begins in
middle age and slowly progresses. Over time, cartilage between your bones
becomes worn down. This results in pain and stiffness in your joints.
arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory
disease. It occurs when your body mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues.
RA affects your joints and also destroys cartilage.
arthritis occurs after an injury to your foot
or ankle. Stress from the injury can cause your joints to become stiff or
inflamed, even years after the injury occurred.
What are the symptoms of ankle disorders?
The symptoms of ankle disorders will vary
based on the specific type of injury. Common symptoms include:
- problems moving the ankle
- inability to put any weight on the ankle
- difficulty walking
Tendonitis and Achilles tendonitis may
produce similar symptoms, but can be accompanied by:
- pain along the back of the heel that gets worse throughout the day
- thickening of the tendon
- swelling that gets worse with physical activity
- loud popping sounds at the back of the heel, signaling a ruptured
tendon. If this occurs, seek emergency medical attention.
How are ankle disorders diagnosed?
To diagnose an ankle disorder, your doctor
will evaluate your symptoms, examine your ankle and foot, and ask about any
To look for bone fractures or tendon tears,
imaging tests will be needed. These tests include:
How are ankle disorders treated?
Treatment will depend on your condition and
your symptoms. Treatments can include nonsurgical and surgical options.
Nonsurgical options involve:
- taking pain medications
- taking medications to reduce swelling and inflammation, like aspirin
- resting and elevating your ankle
- applying ice packs to reduce swelling
- wearing compression bandages or casts to immobilize your ankle
- getting cortisone (steroid) injections to reduce pain and swelling
Severe fractures or ruptured tendons may
require surgical treatment. Surgical procedures used to treat ankle disorders
- reconstruction to rebuild bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments in
- removal of damaged tissue (debridement)
- lengthening the calf muscles to reduce pressure on your Achilles
- fusion of the bones in your ankle to make it more stable
- replacement of your ankle joint (arthroplasty)
What is the long-term outlook for an ankle disorder?
If you have an ankle disorder, your long-term
outlook will depend on the severity of your disorder and the amount of damage
to the ankle. It will also depend on whether or not you need surgery.
Ankle sprains are quite common and generally heal
within six weeks. Similar outcomes can be expected if you have an ankle
fracture and don’t require surgery.
If your ankle disorder requires surgery, full
recovery may take several weeks or months. You may also need physical therapy
to help strengthen your ankle. Physical therapy may last as long as 12 months.
Although surgery for most ankle disorders can
be helpful for improving mobility, all surgical procedures carry potential
risks like the potential for infection and nerve damage.
According to the American
Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the most
common complication is moderate to severe pain following surgery.
How can you prevent ankle disorders?
You can prevent ankle disorders by
maintaining good physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. Regular exercise
is crucial for building strong bones and maintaining good balance. Other
behaviors that can prevent ankle disorders include:
- stretching and warming up before and after physical activity
- wearing comfortable shoes that provide ankle support
- paying attention to your body’s warning signs — don’t push
yourself too hard
ankle injuries can be avoided by taking the proper precautions before strenuous
exercise. If you do feel unusual pain in your ankle during physical activity,
or suspect an injury, contact your doctor immediately.