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The human ankle relies on precise interactions among its various bones and soft tissues to provide both support for your body weight and sufficient mobility for walking, running, and other activities. When any of these structures sustains damage, you may experience acute or chronic ankle pain.

The more you understand about the nature of ankle pain, the more effectively you can respond to it by seeking out the appropriate treatment. Check out these answers to frequently asked questions on the subject.

How Does the Ankle Normally Function?

Under normal circumstances, your ankles can support your entire weight easily and painlessly, not only when standing still but also whenever you shift your weight distribution. The two bones of the lower leg, the fibula and tibia, sit on top of a third bone called the talus, forming the ankle joint. Cartilage prevents bone-on-bone friction.

These bones can move thanks to the flexibility of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments attached to them. Although the ankle primarily acts as a hinge joint that moves the foot up and down, it also permits a small amount of inward and outward motion.

Why Does Ankle Pain Occur?

Ankle pain may originate in any part of the ankle joint. In some cases, the major nerves can even refer pain signals to the ankle from another part of the body, though this is less common. Acute ankle pain may occur due to a fracture in one of the ankle bones, or in the calcaneus (heel bone) just underneath the talus.

Sprains and strains account for many cases of acute ankle pain, especially in runners or other athletes who regularly place their ankles under extraordinary stress. A sprain occurs when a ligament becomes stretched, while a strain occurs when a muscle or tendon becomes torn or stretched.

Chronic ankle pain may develop over months or years, growing steadily worse instead of resolving itself as acute pain does. Ankles subjected to abnormal stress may develop chronic muscle or tendon inflammation. Deteriorating cartilage between ankle bones may produce osteoarthritis.

Sometimes the nerve that passes through a narrow passage in the ankle can become pinched. This can lead to a form of chronic ankle or foot pain called tarsal tunnel syndrome.

What Do Specific Ankle Symptoms Indicate?

Acute ankle pain typically has a fairly obvious cause, such as a misstep that turns the ankle and damages connective tissues. Sprains and strains can present similar symptoms, except for bruising, which typically accompanies a sprain. A fracture may cause debilitating pain, swelling, and bruising.

Chronic conditions often present their own telltale symptoms. For example, osteoarthritis may cause more stiffness after a period of inactivity; it may also create an uncomfortable grinding sensation in the joint. Tarsal tunnel syndrome may produce tingling or numbness as well as pain.

How Can Non-Surgical Treatment Relieve Ankle Pain?

Many forms of ankle pain respond well to conservative treatment methods. An acute strain or sprain usually requires rest, ice, compression, and elevation. A fracture may require you to spend several weeks in a cast or protective boot, using crutches or other devices to bear your weight.

A variety of therapies can control chronic ankle pain. Massage therapy and medications can reduce the inflammation of soft tissue strain and arthritis. Regular exercise can reduce pain and improve flexibility in arthritic ankles. Weight loss or orthotic insoles may also relieve your aches and pains.

When Does Ankle Pain Call for Surgery?

Severe ankle issues may call for surgical intervention. Examples include a connective tissue that has torn completely away from the bone, a fracture in which the bone fragments have fallen out of alignment with each other, advanced arthritis, and tarsal tunnel syndrome that doesn’t respond to milder corrective measures.

Surgery to ease severe ankle arthritis often involves fusing the two joints producing the pain. This procedure reduces your range of motion, but it also prevents painful bone-on-bone friction. A severely deteriorated ankle can even receive an artificial replacement joint.

Orthopedic surgeons can also repair fractured ankles that wouldn’t heal properly on their own. Open reduction and internal fixation surgery realigns the bones and secures them with metal hardware.

Omaha Orthopedic Clinic & Sports Medicine can help you overcome your ankle pain. Contact us today.