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Foot & Ankle

Why Does My Ankle Hurt When I Walk?

By October 31, 2022No Comments

Your ankle consists of many tendons, bones, ligaments, and cartilage. It holds your weight whenever you walk, run, or stand. Unfortunately, the ankle is prone to many injuries and health conditions that cause ankle pain.

Ankle pain indicates discomfort or pain in any part of the ankle. The intensity and symptoms of pain usually vary depending on its cause. You may feel stiffness, pain, and swelling in your ankle.

Ankle pain may not require surgery and can improve with conservative treatment, including rest, ice, physical therapy, and over-the-counter pain medications.

9 Causes of Ankle Pain

Ankle pain is common in the elderly but can also happen in young individuals. Many factors can result in the pain; the most common ones include:

Ankle Fracture

Your ankle consists of three bones: the tibia (shinbone), talus, and fibula. Any damage or cracks to one or more of these bones cause severe bruising, pain, and swelling in the entire ankle. You may be able to move with a broken ankle but with severe pain. 

If the ankle fracture becomes severe, you may be able to see exposed ankle bones. 

Practicing RICE may elevate the pain, but always consult a doctor first. They suggest you splint or cast to stabilize the bones in the original place. In the worst cases, you may need surgery. 

Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle is a tear in the ligaments that keeps your ankle bones sustained. The condition mainly occurs when you accidentally roll your foot sideways and bruise your ankle. A sprained ankle can’t hold the body weight. 

You can treat your sprained ankle through RICE—rest, ice, compress, and elevate. However, if your condition worsens, the doctor may ask you to wear walking boots and do regular physical therapy. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory condition of the joints. It affects both sides of the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling in both ankles. The initial symptoms appear in your front foot and the toes, gradually traveling to the ankle. 

The healthcare provider recommends physical exercises and physical therapy as the initial treatment. If the pain persists, they may also prescribe shoe inserts or anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the swelling. 

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that affects the healthy tissues of your legs. Lupus related to arthritis and tendinopathy usually causes severe joint and ankle pain. On the other hand, lupus associated with the kidney can result in fluid buildup in the joints. 

Both types of lupus have no treatment. However, if your condition worsens, the doctor may prescribe you medications, a healthy diet, and regular exercise. 

Osteoarthritis

Cartilage is a cushion that protects both bones of a joint. It naturally wears off over time. When the cartilage is completely gone, the joint bones start rubbing against each other, causing extreme pain, stiffness, and less mobility. This is known as osteoarthritis.

The doctor recommends anti-inflammatory drugs, braces, and physical therapy to reduce pain and swelling. In the worst cases, you may have to go under scissors (surgery).

Gout

Gout is the condition in which the waste product of your body, called uric acid, accumulates in your joints as multiple needle-like crystals. Gout primarily targets your big toe but can also impact your ankles. People with gout feel intense swelling and pain in their ankles.

The first-hand treatment for gout is medications, rest, a gout-specific diet, and physical exercises. These methods also prevent future gout attacks.

Flat Feet

The region between your heel and the ball of the foot is called an arch. It gives the under part of your foot a hollow appearance when standing. However, many people have flat arches caused due to normal wear and tear, injuries, or genetic reasons. 

Hormonal changes and weight gain that come with pregnancy can also cause flat feet. People with flat feet may not feel pain in the foot, but their ankles may hurt or swell if your arch displaces from its original position from your knees. 

The doctor recommends arch supports, physical therapy, and supportive shoes to treat flat feet. 

Achilles Tendinitis

The Achilles tendon connects your heel to the calf muscles. A heavy strain or sudden pressure can result in small tendon tears. In Achilles tendinitis, the back area of your ankle may feel tender or swollen. You may feel warm near the heel after waking up or a heavy workout. 

Your healthcare professional will suggest you anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the pain. Resting, stretching, physical therapy, and heel lifts can help you heal faster. But if scar tissue leads to further issues, you may have to go for surgery. 

Bursitis

Bursa is two fluid-filled sacs between your ankle’s tendons and bones that cushion the space in between. They are prone to inflammation from arthritis, high heels, doing an extensive workout, or overuse.

Bursitis can make your ankle swollen, stiff, warm, and tender. The best treatment for this condition is RICE, anti-inflammatory medicines, stretches, and exercises to relieve pain and future issues. 

Treatment for Ankle Pain

Treatment for Ankle Pain

Depending on the severity of your ankle pain, you’ll have to go through a combination of conservative (at-home) and orthobiologic treatments

Conservative Methods

If you have minor ankle pain, it can be treated with conservative treatments, such as:

  • Using braces and splints to ease ankle pain and stabilize the bones
  • Opting for joint aspiration to remove excess fluid from the swelled joint 
  • Taking medications to relieve inflammation and pain
  • Inserting orthotics in your shoes to maintain foot stability and proper bone alignment
  • Practicing customized physical therapy sessions to enhance flexibility and strengthen muscles

Orthobiologic Methods

Fortunately, there is an easy way to treat your ankle pain and walk smoothly—orthobiologic treatments or regenerative medicine. These typically include two methods: cell-based or stem cell therapies and platelet-rich plasma therapy. 

Both of these treatments are less invasive and less painful because they are performed on the patient’s “autologous” or own tissues. 

  • Cell-Based Therapies. It includes harvesting cells from two areas, adipose (fat) tissue and bone marrow, concentrating them, and reinjecting them into the injury site or ankle. When the cells are extracted from the adipose tissue, the process is called Minimally Manipulated Adipose Tissue Transplant (MMAT). When the cells are harvested from the bone marrow, it is called Bone Marrow Concentrate (BMAC).
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy. This method isolates platelets from the patient’s plasma, processes them, and reinjects them in the injury site. Platelets promote healing in the ankle and boost tissue development. 

Cell-based and PRP therapies are outpatient procedures, so you can go home right after the process. Cell-based therapies are completed in 1.5 to 2 hours, while PRP takes about 45 minutes. The orthobiologic treatments are pretty effective in treating most types of ankle pain, and both are performed at CELLAXYS.

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Director of Regenerative Orthopedic and Sports Medicine
Fellowship-trained & Board Certified in Sports medicine
Director Angiography at Harvard Clinical Research Institute
Michigan State University Alumni

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