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5 Reasons Why You Have Ankle Pain And How To Heal Fast

Identifying the cause of your ankle pain can help you find the right treatment. Here are 5 common ankle injuries and treatments.

Ankle pain min scaled

Ankle pain can really slow you down if you’re trying to be more active this Spring. It can also be hard to treat as there may be several causes.

Some ankle pain may be due to an injury. However, you can also experience problems if you are overweight, use inappropriate footwear, or are female.

Read on to learn about the most common types of ankle pain and injuries, how they occur, and tips for treating them.

What’s Causing Your Ankle Pain?

A male runner experiencing ankle pain
Not warming up properly before exercise can sometimes lead to ankle pain.

Ankle injuries can happen to anyone, irrespective of age or level of physical activity. However, certain factors can make you vulnerable to ankle pain. These include: 

  • Excessive body weight 
  • Muscle and ligament fatigue 
  • Poor leg muscle conditioning 
  • A prior ankle sprain or strain 
  • Use of inappropriate footwear 
  • Not performing a warm-up session before physical activity 
  • Being a woman above 30 or a male teenager between the ages of 15 to 24

Types Of Ankle Pain And Treatments

Here are 5 common types of ankle injuries and the methods that can help treat them:

Tendonitis 

Thickened tendons, ankle pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around the tendon are the primary symptoms of tendonitis. These stem from an inflammation of the peroneal tendons, which run along the outer ankle bone and sides of the foot.

The problem should be treated promptly to avoid subluxation – a partial dislocation of a joint – or a tendon rupture. Subsequently, these can cause ankle weakness or instability, excruciating pain, and a stabbing sensation in the tendons.

Treatment

The RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation – method is a popular way to treat tendonitis and other ankle injuries. Apply an ice pack or cold compress to an affected area for 20 minutes every two hours.

The ankle should also be wrapped in a compression bandage and lifted above a person’s heart level. A soft cast or boot encourages healing by immobilizing a person and taking weight off their tendons.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy will improve strength and flexibility in the ankle and foot.

If these options fail, a healthcare provider may propose surgery. A synovectomy is a minimally invasive procedure to remove damaged external layers of tissue from the tendons.

Anterior Ankle Impingement Syndrome 

This injury can develop if you’ve suffered ankle damage due to inflammation. It makes the ankle’s soft tissue swell, reducing elasticity which brings about impingement. Impingement is described as the excessive friction between joint tissues that limit the range of motion.

If someone has arthritis, the body will respond by forming extra bone tissue (osteophytes) on the front of the ankle bones. Subsequently, these osteophytes will impinge on each other or pinch the soft tissues.

Treatment

The RICE method and physical therapy are the primary options for restoring the range of motion. Corticosteroid injections, anti-inflammatory medication, and creams can help calm inflammation, pain, and swelling.

Surgical treatment to remove an osteophyte or a soft tissue can be considered if a person’s symptoms are attributed to impingement. The procedure can be performed arthroscopically or by opening the ankle joint.

Fractures 

A woman with a stress fracture wearing a brace on her leg
A stress fracture is most likely to occur right above the ankle in the distal fibula bone.

Pain and severe bruising best describe a fracture.

“Often, the injury will occur in the distal fibula, slightly above the lateral malleolus (outer ankle bone). It’ll also increase the risk of an avulsion fracture, which sees ligament insertion points breaking off from the bones.”

Dr. Simon Shen, Real Health Medical’s Doctor of Chiropractic.

Treatment

A healthcare provider may prescribe protective footwear or a cast to alleviate the pressure on the leg. The latter provides the additional advantage of keeping the foot in a fixed position.

Sometimes, surgery to insert specialized pins, plates, or screws into the ankle may also be performed. These can help keep the small bones of the foot and ankle together while a person recovers.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs can speed up healing and encourage blood circulation. Real Health Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew recommends the following:  

  • Mulberry twig (sang ji sheng
  • Achyranthes (niu xi
  • Slender-style Acanthopanax bark (wu jia pi
  • East-Asian tree fern rhizome (gou ji)  
  • Copper (zi ran tong
  • Drynaria fortune rhizome (gu sui bu)  
  • Eucommia bark (du zhong)  
  • Himalayan teasel root (xu duan)

Acupressure massage, too, can be administered to hasten the recovery of a fracture. A few of the points that can be stimulated according to Physician Yew are:  

  • Da zhu (BL11) 
  • Xuan zhong (GB39) 
  • Tai xi (KI3) 
  • He gu (LI4) 
  • Tai chong (LR3) 
  • San yin jiao (SP6) 
  • Zu san li (ST36)  

Sprains 

Direct or indirect trauma is the reason behind ankle sprains. The trauma a person experiences can overstretch or tear the ligaments that support the ankle.

They may endure symptoms like bruising, swelling, or pain in the affected area. A person might hear a popping sound or find their ankle’s range of motion limited.

The extent of an injury can also be broken down into: 

  • Grade 1 injuries: A minimal tearing of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments 
  • Grade 2 injuries: A combination of completely or partially torn muscles, tendons, or ligaments 
  • Grade 3 injuries: A complete tear or rupture of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments 

Treatment for ankle pain due to a sprain

A person with a Grade 1 or 2 sprain may benefit from using pain relievers such as NSAIDs or paracetamol. A Grade 3 injury requires a traditional plaster or commercial air cast, and crutches may help them walk freely.

To relieve pain and support the development of new tissue, an ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and strengthening exercises can help.

Physician Yew usually prescribes these TCM herbal formulas and ingredients:  

  • Blood vine slices (ji xue teng pian
  • Tao Hong Si Wu Tang  
  • Jin Gu Die Shang Pian  
  • Zheng Gu Zi Jin Dan 
  • Xiao Zhong Huo Xue Pian  
  • Shu Jin Huo Luo Pian

Shin splints 

A male runner holding his shin splints in pain
Shin splints can sometimes be the cause of your ankle pain.

As a consequence of rigorous and repetitive movement, shin splints inflame the muscles, tendons, and thin layers of tissue covering the shins. The injury won’t directly harm the ankle but can still cause severe pain.

The pain starts in the lower leg above the ankle and can worsen when the ankle turns inward. Recovery begins when you stop activities that instigate pain.

Treating shin splints

A healthcare provider will propose a treatment plan consisting of medications, cold compresses, strengthening and stretching exercises, and running shoes with a stiff heel and arch support.

To treat shin splints the TCM way, Physician Yew explains that the focus is placed on relaxing the muscles, removing Stasis, nourishing the Liver, and promoting qi (vital life force) circulation.

He explains that Tao Hong Si Wu soup and Zheng Gu Zi Jin Dan are commonly used in the treatment of shin splints by removing Blood Stasis, relieving pain, and promoting healing.

Consuming natural ingredients like ginger (sheng jiang), turmeric (jiang huang), Valerian root (xie cao), Tian Qi, and coconut oil will help, too. Meanwhile, many medicinal mushrooms, such as Cordyceps and Lingzhi, contain pain-relieving properties.

Try Different Treatments For Ankle Pain

Minor ankle injuries respond well to a self-administered treatment option like RICE. Likewise, acupressure only offers mild symptomatic relief for a sprained ankle.

If you’re considering herbal formulas and ingredients, you shouldn’t self-medicate. Speak to a TCM practitioner beforehand to enable a holistic and more effective treatment of an ankle injury based on your body constitution.

References

  1. Sports-health.com. 2014. Ankle Sprain and Strain Risk Factors
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Peroneal Tendonitis
  3. Physiopedia. Anterior Ankle Impingement Syndrome
  4. PHYSIO WORKS. Anterior Ankle Impingement
  5. OrthoInfo. Stress Fractures of the Foot and Ankle.   
  6. Sports-health.com. 2014. Ankle Sprain and Strain Signs and Symptoms.
  7. Sports-health.com. 2014. Ankle Sprain and Strain Diagnosis
  8. Sports-health.com. 2014. Ankle Sprain and Strain Treatment Options
  9. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Shin Splints

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