Causes of ankle pain
Ankle injury and pain can occur with anyone, whether you are an elite athlete or just going about your daily activities. It can be the result of:
- Direct trauma
- Repetitive movement and overload
- Recurring chronic ankle injury
At our West London clinic, the top 5 causes of ankle injury and pain include:
- Ankle sprains
- Achilles tendinopathy (achilles tendinitis)
- Peroneal tendinopathy
Ankle sprains top this list and in the UK, about 1 million people experience ankle sprains annually. Of these, nearly 75% are lateral (outside) ankle sprains.
Types of grade sprains explained (grade 1-3)
Ankle sprains are graded based on their severity, with the grading reflecting the extent of damage to the ligaments:
Grade I (mild) ankle sprain:
- Ligament damage: Slight stretching and microscopic tearing of the ligament fibers
- Symptoms: Mild tenderness, swelling, and stiffness. Little to no functional loss of the foot and ankle
- Stability: The ankle remains stable; you can usually still walk, though it might be painful
Grade II (moderate) ankle sprain:
- Ligament damage: Partial ligament tearing
- Symptoms: Moderate bruising, pain and swelling; some loss of function of the foot and ankle
- Stability: Mild to moderate joint instability; you may have difficulty walking and experience some instability in the ankle
Grade III (severe) ankle sprain:
- Ligament damage: Complete tear or rupture of the ligament
- Symptoms: Severe bruising, pain and swelling
- Stability: Significant instability; you will likely be unable to bear weight on the affected ankle
Symptoms of ankle pain
Ankle pain can manifest with a variety of symptoms depending on the structures involved. Symptoms you may experience can consist of 1 or more of the following:
- Sharp or dull pain (localsied to ankle or radiating up leg)
- Pain and swelling
- Redness and bruising
- Stiffness, restricting range of movement
- Ankle pain that gradually increases with activity
- Ankle pain that decreases with activity
- Tenderness to touch
- Sensation of warmth
A more severe ankle injury may present with:
- Giving way
- Popping or snapping sound
- Grinding sensation
Treatment for ankle pain
The ankle joint serves as a crucial juncture connecting the leg to the foot, enabling mobility and support. It plays a vital role in weight-bearing, walking, running, and balance. Treatment for ankle pain begins with a thorough assessment to determine the underlying cause. Common treatment interventions include:
- Exercises to strengthen and improve mobility
- Manual therapy
- Exercise modification
If there is noticeable bruising, pain and swelling, it is recommended to apply ice for no more than 20 minutes at least 3 times a day.
The goal is to restore function, reduce pain, and prevent long term recurrent injuries.
Exercises for ankle pain
The appropriate exercises for ankle pain depend on the underlying cause of the pain and the structures involved. Any programme is likely to involve exercises specific to the ankle such as heel raises, as well as those for the upper leg and trunk.
Our West London clinic treats ankle pain with an exercise approach, and the difficulty and load applied to any programme will gradually increase throughout your recovery.
When to see a physio for ankle pain
It’s recommended to consult a physiotherapist as soon as symptoms appear or after an ankle injury.
Up to 40% of ankle sprains go on to develop chronic symptoms that persist for at least 12 months post-injury. Prompt intervention can help reduce pain, improve range of movement and tackle root causes, aiding in preventing chronic ankle pain.
How long does it take to recover from a sprained ankle?
Full recovery from a mild ankle sprain will take an average of 8 weeks. A severe sprain or chronic ankle injury will take 4+ months. All treatment and rehab at our West London clinic is evidence-based and exercise-led gradually increasing in load and difficulty on each appointment.
What should I do in the first few days after an ankle sprain?
If you observe significant bruising, pain, and swelling, it’s advised to apply ice to the area for up to 20 minutes, repeating at least 3 times daily. Otherwise follow the most current approach to managing acute injuries, using the acronym PEACE & LOVE (Protection, Elevation, Avoid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, Compression, Education & Load, Optimism, Vascularization, and Exercise).
Can I walk on an ankle sprain?
Walking on an ankle sprain depends on its severity. Mild sprains may allow for limited walking with discomfort, but severe sprains require rest.
Does physio help ankle ligament damage?
Yes, physiotherapy can significantly aid in the recovery and strengthening of damaged ankle ligaments, improving mobility, reducing pain, and aiding in preventing chronic ankle injuries.