3 Common Causes of Ankle Pain and Swelling

If you’ve ever stepped on a large stone and sprained your ankle, you know how painful it can be almost instantly. At that moment, you realize just how much of your ankle joint’s total weight is responsible for supporting you (up to five times your body weight with every step you take).

Eliminating the swelling and pain in your ankle as quickly as possible is probably your top priority if the above situation sounds familiar. 


Understanding the Pain in Your Ankle

The connection of three bones forms your ankle joint:

  • The ankle bone
  • The shin bone
  • The tiny bone of the lower leg

The bottom part of the ankle bone or talus sits on the heel bone (calcaneus). In addition to the bones forming your ankle, numerous tendons and ligaments help connect and protect the joint.

The most common ankle injuries are sprains and fractures, but arthritis can also be responsible for chronic ankle pain.


How to Heal Ankle Pain

Knowing how to heal ankle pain is a matter of identifying a cause. Treating a sprained ankle is different and comes with unique challenges compared to treating a broken ankle. A corresponding treatment plan can be formed depending on what is causing your ankle pain.




Sprained Ankle

Just what is a sprained ankle? The injury that occurs when you twist, roll, or awkwardly turn your ankle is a sprained ankle. What you’ve injured (by stretching or tearing) are the ligaments — the rugged bands of fibrous tissue that help hold your ankle together and keep it stable. This can result in swelling and ankle and foot pain, making walking difficult.

Treatment may involve:

  • Rest
  • Alternating ice/heat therapy
  • Over-the-counter pain medication to help reduce swelling and ease the pain

Bear in mind that some strains can be pretty severe, so if you’re in a great deal of pain or your ankle swells badly, you should see your doctor to have your injury evaluated. They might recommend further treatment, including compression (an ace bandage) and physical therapy to help restore range of motion.



Broken Ankle

Fractures of the ankle are also common, and if you suspect you may have broken your ankle, you should seek immediate medical treatment. Symptoms of a fracture include:

  • Pain at the site of the break can also radiate up toward the knee.
  • Significant swelling, sometimes confined to the injured area, can also extend up the leg.
  • Bruising develops very quickly after your injury.
  • Change in appearance or the injured ankle looks noticeably different from the other ankle.
  • A bone that protrudes through the skin indicates that the fracture is severe and requires an immediate trip to the ER to prevent possible infection or other complications.



Never rely on the old advice that says that if you can walk on your injured ankle, it’s not broken. It’s possible to walk on a bone with a slight fracture, so the “advice” is not a good indicator of the extent of your injury.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the fracture, with surgery being necessary for severe breaks. The doctor will likely immobilize your ankle via a brace or a cast, and rest and physical therapy will also likely be part of your recovery process.


Osteoarthritis of the Ankle

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that can affect your ankle by breaking down the cartilage and developing abnormal bony growths commonly known as bone spurs. Symptoms may be mild in the early stages, and you may notice ankle pain after a long walk or a run; these symptoms can sometimes be dealt with simply by resting your elevated ankle and applying an ice pack.

However, arthritis is a progressive joint disease; in time, it wears away cartilage, resulting in the three bones that make up the ankle rubbing together and causing friction. This friction can cause ankle pain, general foot pain, swelling, stiffness, and popping or crunching noises.



Treatment may involve medication to reduce swelling, orthotic devices (e.g., a cane or a brace), and physical therapy. A physical therapist can show you exercises designed to stretch the ankle joint’s soft tissues and build up the surrounding muscles. The goal is to increase the support strength of the joint and help prevent further loss of cartilage.

In severe cases, you may need surgery to remove bone spurs, stretch out the joint, or even fuse the bones that make up the ankle to eliminate friction. This is rare, however, and the majority of people with ankle arthritis will rarely need surgery.


Talk to Cawley Physical Therapy and Ease the Pain in Your Ankle

If you’re suffering from ankle pain and live anywhere in or near Northeastern Pennsylvania, be sure to give Cawley Physical Therapy a call at 570-208-2787, or drop us an email at cawleyptfrank@gmail.com. We’ve got five convenient locations, and we’re trained to handle your ankle in a friendly, family-oriented atmosphere!



Are the common reasons for ankle pain listed above not matching your situation? Contact Cawley Physical Therapy and sign up for one of our limited free discovery visits!