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Foot and ankle pain are typically brought on by injury or underlying conditions such as arthritis. When not properly treated, simple problems such as ankle sprains can lead to chronic pain. Kettering Health can help you move beyond your foot and ankle pain, whether it’s with at-home treatment or surgery.
Typically, foot pain and ankle pain are short term and can be treated at home. When the pain doesn’t subside after some time, contact your doctor to make sure it is not something more serious.
Causes and Risk Factors of Foot and Ankle Pain
Most foot and ankle injuries will gradually heal with the help of simple at-home treatments, such as ice and rest.
However, some pain may not heal on its own, and you will need to visit your doctor for a diagnosis. Pain that worsens, fails to improve, or lasts longer than a few months should be brought to your doctor’s attention.
The following are common causes of foot and ankle pain:
- Arthritis: There are several types of arthritis that can affect your foot-and-ankle region, such as rheumatoid, reactive, septic, or psoriatic arthritis.
- Bone spurs: These form when you grow extra bone and usually develop where two bones come together.
- Break or fracture: This is an injury to the bone that can cause severe pain in the foot or ankle. This can occur from a twisting injury following a simple fall or a more severe accident.
- Cysts: These form on and around the foot-and-ankle region, causing pain and discomfort.
- Gout: Caused by a buildup of uric acid, gout causes swelling and pain that are described as sudden and severe.
- Stress fracture: This is an injury caused when the bone isn’t broken or fractured but has a tiny crack or cracks. They usually result from overusing the joint or foot.
- Tendonitis: There are five forms of tendonitis that can lead to pain in your foot or ankle, including tendonitis affecting the Achilles, tibial, flexor, peroneal, and extensor regions.
Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Pain
Foot and ankle pain can be mild or severe. Swelling is also a common symptom of foot and ankle pain. Decreased flexibility of the ankle joint can also be seen with foot and ankle pain.
Consult a doctor when experiencing severe pain or swelling if you’re unable to put weight on your foot or ankle. You should inform your doctor at the first signs of infection—such as redness, fever, warmth, and tenderness.
Diagnosis of Foot and Ankle Pain
You may need to consult your doctor about your foot and ankle pain if at-home treatments don’t help, or if you have a condition that could affect the joints or soft tissue.
Speak to your doctor if one or more of the following occurs:
- Your pain does not improve in the first few days or worsens.
- Your pain is still present after two weeks of at-home treatment.
- You have sores that are not healing.
- Your skin has changed color—especially if it has turned dark blue or black.
- Your foot has changed shape or is swollen.
- You have a high temperature or feel hot and shivery.
- You have an inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma.
- You have diabetes.
- You are taking steroids, biologics, or other drugs that affect your immune system.
You may be referred to a specialist in foot care, such as a podiatrist, physiotherapist, or an orthotist for diagnosis and treatment. A diagnosis will typically be made after a healthcare provider examines your feet.
A diagnosis consists of reviewing medical history, a physical examination, and possibly X-rays or a blood test if they think your pain is being caused by a condition such as arthritis.
Treatment of Foot and Ankle Pain
Most foot or ankle pain can be treated at home without need to see a healthcare professional. Soft-tissue injuries should begin to improve over the first few days with the help of at-home treatments.
By gently massaging the painful area, you can help reduce swelling and increase blood flow. It is best to avoid hot baths, heat packs, and alcohol in the first few days after an injury.
To treat pain and discomfort, follow the RICE therapy method:
- Rest: Avoid putting weight on the injured foot or ankle. Gently move the affected area occasionally to stop the area from getting stiff.
- Ice: Put an ice pack covered in a damp cloth on the painful area for 20 minutes every two to three hours.
- Compression: Wrap a bandage around the area that’s painful. It should be tight enough to support it, but not so tight that it restricts the blood flow.
- Elevate: Keep your foot elevated to reduce swelling.
Surgery is usually the last option if at-home treatment, exercise, and specialist treatment do not help. Most foot or ankle surgeries seek to correct the position of the joints by resetting the bones or fusing a joint in the corrected position.
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