Ankle Symptoms

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

What are the signs of ankle problems?

Ankle symptoms refer to pain or discomfort which can arise from damage to your ankle, such as a common sprain or more traumatic bone fractures. Additionally, some chronic diseases, such as the many forms of arthritis, can also cause ankle symptoms.

Ankle symptoms may arise from problems with any of the structures in your ankle: the bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and surrounding muscles. Traumatic causes of ankle symptoms include fractures of bone, tears and sprains of the ligaments, damage to the tendons, and damage to the cartilage of the joint. Injuries may be sudden, such as a twisting injury of your joint or a direct blow to your ankle, or they may develop slowly over time. The ankle is the most frequently injured joint among athletes.

The different forms of arthritis are the most common chronic diseases to affect the ankle. Osteoarthritis results from wear and tear on the joint, while rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation) arises from a dysfunction of the body’s immune system. Rarely, tumors and infections of the ankle joint and surrounding areas may produce symptoms in your ankle.

Sometimes, pain or injury at other sites, such as the lower leg, hip, knee, or foot, can cause pain or other symptoms you can feel in your ankle.

An ankle injury can require emergency care, and even a sprain may be accompanied by more-serious injuries to your joint. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as paralysis, loss of sensation, absent pulses in your feet, the inability to move your ankle, severe bleeding, high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), or uncontrollable pain.

If your ankle symptoms persist or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with ankle symptoms?

Ankle symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Some chronic conditions that frequently affect the ankle joint may also involve other body systems.

Localized symptoms that may occur along with ankle symptoms

Ankle symptoms can accompany other symptoms affecting the area of the ankle including:

  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Deformity of the joint
  • Instability of the joint
  • Limited ability, or inability, to move the ankle
  • Muscle weakness or spasm
  • Pain, whether at rest or during specific movements, that may be described as dull, sharp, burning, stabbing or aching
  • Redness and warmth of the skin
  • Swelling

Other symptoms that may occur along with ankle symptoms

Ankle symptoms may accompany symptoms in other parts of your body including:

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, ankle symptoms can signal a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Coldness of your feet, with weak or absent pulses
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Loss of sensation in your feet
  • Obvious breakage or deformity of the bones
  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part
  • Severe bleeding
  • Uncontrollable pain

What causes ankle symptoms?

Ankle symptoms can occur due to chronic diseases that affect the ankle, such as the many forms of arthritis, as well as due to injuries to any of the structures in the ankle.

One of the most common causes of ankle symptoms is a sprain. When your ankle is sprained, the ligaments that stabilize the sides of your ankle joint are stretched, damaged or torn.

Traumatic causes of ankle symptoms

Ankle symptoms may be caused by trauma or injuries, including overuse or stress injuries. Examples include

  • Bone spurs (small projections that form at the edges of bones)
  • Fracture of bones
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tearing or stretching of the ligaments
  • Tendon rupture (including Achilles tendon)
  • Tendinitis

Inflammatory causes of ankle symptoms

Ankle symptoms can also be caused by inflammatory diseases that may also affect multiple joints within the body including:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis (inflammation of joints between the vertebrae of the spine)
  • Gout (type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints) and pseudogout
  • Septic arthritis (infectious arthritis)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis (arthritis associated with psoriasis of the skin)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

Serious or life-threatening causes of ankle symptoms

In some cases, ankle symptoms may be symptoms of a serious or life-threatening condition including:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of ankle symptoms

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your ankle symptoms including:

  • How long have you felt your ankle symptoms?
  • Are you able to move your ankle?
  • Are your ankle symptoms the result of an injury?
  • Do you have any symptoms in other joints?
  • Do you participate in sports activities?
  • Does anything relieve or worsen your symptoms?

What are the potential complications of ankle symptoms?

Complications of untreated ankle symptoms can be serious. Because ankle symptoms can sometimes be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Absenteeism from work or school
  • Decreased athletic performance
  • Disability
  • Joint deformity and destruction
  • Nerve problems that cause pain, numbness or tingling
  • Permanent or chronic pain
Was this helpful?
  1. Ankle pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  2. Ankle problems.
  3. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2012
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 20
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