Treatments for ankle pain and discomfort vary depending on the cause. Options may include cold compresses and pain medications. Surgery may be necessary if the pain is severe.
People can develop ankle pain for various reasons.
Other possible explanations for long-term pain around the ankles include:
- improperly fitting footwear
- connective tissue diseases
- insufficient circulation
- nerve damage
Ankle pain should gradually resolve. However, depending on the cause, full recovery may take a few months. Pain that worsens, does not improve, or lasts longer than a few months may indicate an underlying condition.
This article looks at the treatments and potential risks of treatment for ankle pain.
- Rest: Avoid putting weight on the affected ankle and limit physical activity until it heals.
- Ice: Apply ice to the ankle for 20 minutes every 2–3 hours to help reduce swelling.
- Compression: Wrap compression bandages and dressings around the painful ankle.
- Elevate: Keep the ankle elevated to reduce swelling.
People should avoid applying cold compresses directly to the skin, as they can damage the skin or nerves. Ice placed directly on the skin may also result in a burn in some cases.
Those with neuropathy or heart problems should consult a doctor before opting for cold therapy.
NSAIDs are also available as gels that people can apply directly to painful areas. These can penetrate the skin and reduce pain in the joints and tissues.
These medications are available in tablet, capsule, injection, and skin patch form.
NSAIDs may be beneficial in treating musculoskeletal pain, including arthritis-related ankle pain. However, serious side effects — such as heart attack, gastrointestinal problems, and allergic reactions — are possible.
While opioids are safe for short-term use, a person should take them only under medical supervision, as there is a risk of adverse effects and misuse.
If home remedies and OTC treatments do not improve symptoms, a medical professional may recommend other options to treat ankle pain.
Braces may help with injury recovery and prevention by restricting motion and reducing pain.
Wearing an ankle brace may lead to decreased balance and strength in the affected ankle. Therefore, a person may benefit from engaging in physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises to prevent or address these effects.
Additionally, a person should consider the type of bracing they use for their ankle.
Exercise can help reduce ankle pain and stiffness.
People should start exercising gently and slowly and build up each time they exercise. If the ankles are stiff before exercising, a person should take a warm shower or warm up to loosen up the joints.
Experts recommend avoiding high impact sports and heavy lifting until a person has less discomfort in their ankle.
Physical activity can help a person:
- maintain their fitness level
- keep other muscles and joints strong and flexible
- prevent a recurrence of injury
- maintain a moderate weight
Some types of movement may worsen ankle pain or cause bursts of more intense pain. A person should consult a doctor and physical therapist to find out the best way to ease back into physical activity.
Steroid injections reduce swelling and inflammation and improve pain.
Steroid injections may cause side effects such as the following:
- Sometimes, a person may experience increased pain in the injected area. Doctors refer to this as steroid “flare.” It is usually temporary but could last up to 48 hours.
- The injection site may bruise or bleed after treatment.
- People may notice skin discoloration or thinning of fat.
- Less commonly, there is a risk of weakening and rupturing the tendons.
- In rare cases, a person may have an allergic reaction to the injection.
- Rarely, the injection site may become infected.
A person should consult a doctor if they experience any of the above or other noticeable effects after the injection.
The longer a person receives this medication, the more severe the side effects may be.
Surgery may be necessary in the case of severe injury and pain. Possible surgical procedures include:
- Ankle arthroscopy: During this procedure, a surgeon may make a few incisions and insert an arthroscope into the ankle. This small tube has a video camera that allows the doctors to look closely at the joints and scar tissue. They may then reconstruct torn or stretched tissues.
- Ankle ligament reconstruction: This involves using tendons from different areas of the body to repair or reconstruct torn ligaments.
- Ankle replacement surgery: This is for people with severe ankle arthritis and involves replacing the damaged joint with an ankle implant.
- Ankle fusion: People with severe arthritis who cannot undergo replacement surgery may need an ankle fusion. In this procedure, a surgeon connects the two bones below the ankle using nails, screws, or plates.
Ankle surgery has risks, and most people experience a reduced range of motion and swelling in the months after surgery. Possible complications include:
- damage to tissues such as tendons and nerves
- issues with screws, nails, or plates
- new arthritis affecting nearby bones
People should consult a doctor if they have a sprained ankle and the swelling does not go away with home remedies.
A medical professional can evaluate the symptoms and discuss potential treatment options.
If the following symptoms occur after an ankle injury, they may indicate a break that needs immediate medical attention:
- a change in ankle or foot shape
- severe pain
- an inability to put any pressure on the affected leg
Swelling and stiffness may often accompany ankle pain or discomfort.
Applying cold compresses and elevating the leg can help relieve pain and improve circulation. If home remedies do not work, a person may benefit from visiting a doctor. A doctor will evaluate the injury and may prescribe medications or recommend wearing a brace to help with healing.
The treatment plan depends on the person’s condition and the severity of the pain.