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Common Causes of Ankle Pain

person with ankle pain holding ankle

Ankle pain can be a real pain in the...well, ankle! Whether it's due to an injury, overuse, or a chronic condition, ankle pain can limit your mobility and hinder your daily activities. In this blog post, we'll explore some common causes of ankle pain and shed light on what might be causing your discomfort. So, let's put our best foot forward and dive into the world of ankle pain.

ankle anatomy including bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons

Ankle Anatomy

The ankle joint is a remarkable and intricate joint that allows us to move our foot in various directions. To better understand the common causes of ankle pain, let's explore the anatomy of the ankle.

  1. Bones: The ankle joint is formed by three bones: the tibia (shinbone), the fibula (the smaller bone alongside the tibia), and the talus (a bone that sits on top of the heel bone). These bones work together to provide stability and flexibility to the ankle joint.

  2. Ligaments: Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to other bones and provide stability to the joint. In the ankle, there are several important ligaments, including the lateral ligaments (on the outside of the ankle) and the medial ligaments (on the inside of the ankle). These ligaments help prevent excessive side-to-side movement and provide support to the ankle joint.

  3. Tendons: Tendons are tough bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. In the ankle, there are several tendons that play a crucial role in foot and ankle movement. The Achilles tendon, for example, connects the calf muscles to the heel bone and allows us to push off the ground when walking or running.

  4. Cartilage: Cartilage is a smooth, rubbery tissue that covers the ends of bones, allowing them to glide smoothly against each other. In the ankle joint, there is cartilage present between the tibia, fibula, and talus bones. It helps to reduce friction and absorb shock during movement.

Common Causes of Ankle Pain

1. Ankle Sprains:

Ankle sprains are one of the most common causes of ankle pain. They occur when the ligaments that support the ankle stretch or tear, often due to a sudden twisting or rolling motion. If you've recently had a misstep or experienced a sports-related injury, an ankle sprain may be the culprit behind your pain. (Read more about ankle sprains here)

2. Achilles Tendonitis:

The Achilles tendon, located at the back of your ankle, can become inflamed and painful—a condition known as Achilles tendonitis. It typically occurs due to overuse or repetitive strain on the tendon, such as running or jumping activities. If you're feeling pain and stiffness in the back of your ankle, Achilles tendonitis may be to blame.

3. Osteoarthritis:

Just like other joints in your body, your ankle joint can be affected by osteoarthritis. This condition occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the bones wears down over time, leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling. If you're experiencing chronic ankle pain, especially with movement or weight-bearing activities, osteoarthritis might be the cause.

4. Ankle Fractures:

Ankle fractures, or broken bones in the ankle, can result from accidents, falls, or high-impact injuries. They cause immediate pain, swelling, and sometimes deformity. If you've recently had a traumatic event and are experiencing severe pain, difficulty walking, or visible deformity, an ankle fracture may be the reason for your discomfort.

5. Tendinitis:

Tendinitis refers to the inflammation of a tendon, which connects muscles to bones. In the ankle, tendinitis commonly affects the peroneal tendons, causing pain and swelling on the outer side of the ankle. If you're experiencing pain along the outside of your ankle, especially during activities like walking or running, tendinitis may be the underlying cause.

When to Seek Help

If your ankle pain persists or worsens, it's crucial to seek professional help. A skilled healthcare provider, such as a physical therapist, can evaluate your condition, diagnose the specific cause of your ankle pain, and develop an individualized treatment plan to help you recover.

Treatment Options

Treatment for ankle pain varies depending on the underlying cause. It may include a combination of rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE), physical therapy exercises to strengthen the ankle, and modalities like heat or ultrasound. In severe cases, medical interventions such as bracing, corticosteroid injections, or surgical intervention may be necessary.

Understanding the common causes of ankle pain is the first step toward finding relief and getting back on your feet. If you're experiencing persistent or debilitating ankle pain, don't hesitate to reach out to our team at Nashville Physical Therapy & Performance. We're here to help you overcome ankle pain, regain mobility, and get you back to doing the activities you love.


- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2019). Sprained Ankle. Retrieved from

- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2018). Achilles Tendinitis. Retrieved from

- Mayo Clinic. (2019). Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from

- American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. (2021). Ankle Fractures. Retrieved from

- Mayo Clinic. (2020). Tendinitis. Retrieved from

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