Ankle Pain

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is ankle pain?

Your ankle hinges to allow your foot to move. It also helps support your body weight and supports the movement of the toes and calves. It lets you walk, run, jump, and raise your toes. When you have painful ankles, it can affect all of these movements and actions.

The ankle is a complex joint. In fact, there are actually two joint complexes that make up the ankle. There are three bones that make up the main ankle joint. The first is the end of the tibia, or shinbone. The tibia runs down the front of the lower leg and forms the bump on the inside of the ankle. The second bone in the main ankle joint is the fibula. It is the smaller bone in the lower leg that forms the bump on the outside of the ankle. The third bone is the talus bone. It sits underneath the tibia and fibula. The talus also makes up the second joint in the ankle where it meets the calcaneus, or heel bone. The ankle also contains ligaments, tendons, and cartilage to cushion the bones.

The components of the ankle joint are intricately connected. A problem with any of them can cause ankle pain or a sore ankle. The pain can range from mild and annoying to severe and disabling. Seek prompt medical care if you have ankle pain that persists for more than a couple of weeks. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have severe ankle pain or other symptoms that may indicate a broken ankle including:

  • Changes in gait, such as limping, feeling that the ankle is unstable, or walking in a different way

  • Deformity or the ankle, such as being unnaturally bent

  • Difficulty moving the ankle or toes

  • Hearing a snapping, grinding or popping during the injury

  •  Inability to bear weight on the ankle

  • Open wound on the ankle or bone visible through the skin

  • Swelling or bruising

What other symptoms might occur with painful ankles?

Because there are various causes of ankle pain, your doctor will need to narrow down the possibilities. Your explanation of the pain can help this process. Locate the pain in ankle, such as on the inside or outside of the ankle, on the Achilles tendon, or generalized pain throughout the ankle. Use descriptions such as sharp, dull, achy, throbbing or burning. When you tell your doctor “my ankle hurts,” your doctor will likely ask you to rate the pain to gauge the severity. Your doctor will also want to know how your aching ankle started, such as with an injury versus a gradual onset. Does anything make it better or worse? Are there other symptoms that occur with the pain?

Ankle-related symptoms that may occur along with ankle pain

Ankle pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the ankle including:

  • Instability or giving way when you use the ankle

  • Muscle soreness, tenderness or achiness

  • Pain, numbness, tingling, or other abnormal sensations in the foot or toes

  • Stiffness or difficulty moving the ankle in any direction

  • Swelling, warmth or redness over the joint

Other symptoms that may occur along with painful ankles

Other symptoms that can accompany ankle pain include fever, fatigue, and weight loss. You may also notice problems with the other ankle or other joints.

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

Bone fractures require immediate medical attention. If you, or someone you are with, have symptoms that could indicate a broken ankle, seek immediate medical care (call 911). Symptoms can include:

  • A deep wound on the ankle or trauma with open skin

  • Ankle instability

  • Bone sticking out through the skin

  • Inability to move the ankle or toes

  • Inability to stand or bear weight on the ankle

  • Limping or other changes in gait or the way you walk

  • Severe pain or swelling

  • Visual deformity of the ankle

What causes ankle pain?

Why does my ankle hurt? There are many possible causes of ankle pain. Often, the pain is due to problems limited to the joint. In some cases, the pain is related to systemic diseases and conditions that can affect other organs and tissues.

Joint-related causes of ankle pain

Ankle pain may arise from problems within the joint including:

Other causes of ankle pain

Ankle pain can also result from conditions that affect other body systems, organs, and tissues including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of ankle pain

A compound or open fracture is when there is an opening in the skin near the broken bone. This could be a deep or open wound or it could involve a piece of bone breaking through the skin. This type of fracture can quickly lead to infection, which can be life threatening if it causes sepsis. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, has a possible compound fracture.

What are the potential complications of ankle pain?

Complications from ankle pain depend on the cause. For injuries, this can include poor healing or structural problems after healing. This can lead to arthritis and chronic pain, stiffness or instability. The best way to prevent this is to follow your treatment plan exactly as your doctor recommends. Physical therapy is often a part of treating and recovering from ankle pain. It will help you heal properly and regain strength, function and stability in your ankle.

Was this helpful?
  1. Ankle Fractures (Broken Ankle). American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
  2. Ankle Injuries and Disorders. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  3. Ankle Pain. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.
  4. Ankle Pain. Arthritis Foundation.
  5. Ankle Pain. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
  6. Arthritis and Diseases that Affect the Ankle. Arthritis Foundation.
  7. Foot and Ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  8. Joint Pain. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
  9. Musculoskeletal Pain. International Association for the Study of Pain.
  10. Pilon Fractures of the Ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  11. Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  12. Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft Tissue Injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  13. Stress Fractures of the Foot and Ankle. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 21
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