How To Move Without Pain

Why do my Feet and Ankles Hurt?

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 6 minutes to read

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Foot and ankle pain can be a minor short-term nuisance to a long-term chronic issue.  The foot and ankle are a complex set of joints, that are made up of several bones, ligaments, and tendons that tolerate the full weight of the body while moving through motions and balance to control walking, running, stairs, hills, and any time we are standing on our feet.

Common symptoms of foot or ankle injuries include swelling, tenderness, stiffness, or bruising in the affected area, as well as difficulty standing or walking.

Learn why your joints hurt so you know what to do about it

You could have: 

🦶Aching pain on the outside of the ankle
🦶Swelling or tenderness around the outside of the ankle
🦶Pain with walking uphill
🦶Sharp stabby pains in on the bottom of the foot or heel in the morning

Knowing what is injured and causing the pain is important to understand what needs to be addressed to reduce and abolish the ankle or foot pain.  Having a basic understanding of foot anatomy will help you understand what you can do to help alleviate your pain, or at least not make it worse. 

Mistakes you could be making in trying to alleviate your foot or ankle pain: 

You could be stretching tissues that are overstretched causing them to strain when what is really needed is time to heal and recover and then strengthening beginning with lesser intense strengthening.

Or you could be wearing shoes that are not supporting your foot thus putting further pressure or stretch into your arch, plantar fascia, ligaments, or tendons. 

For example, if your foot doesn’t hit the ground in a good position when walking or running, it could possibly create more stress on the tendons.  So, what can you do?

Take the free Joint Health Assessment to learn the potential impact of your current activity limitations

1️⃣First answer these questions for yourself: 

❓Where is the pain? 
❓Do you have swelling? 
❓Is it worse in the morning or as the day goes on? 
❓Does the pain change when standing versus walking versus running
❓Does the pain change with different shoes?

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Some of the most common causes of foot and ankle pain that involve the soft tissue (connective tissue, tendons, ligaments) include:

Plantarfascitis: Pain within the arch of the foot (known as the plantar fascia) where it  becomes tight and inflamed especially at the attachment site at the heel.

Achilles tendinopathy: Inflammation of the tendon, in the back of your lower leg, causing pain and swelling within the Achilles or where the Achilles attachs to the heel.  It can be triggered by a variety of factors, most commonly due to a change or intensification of your training schedule, but it can also occur due to inactivity.  Symptoms may include:

  • Stiffness and pain, particularly in the morning
  • Swelling and pain at the back of the leg near the heel, which is exacerbated by exercise
  • Swelling/pain worsening with activity

Posterior tibial tendinopathy: can be a progressive and debilitating disorder. The pain may be present at rest, the area could be warm and swollen when the pain initially starts. 

There are not usually symptoms during walking early on, but symptoms may be present in running. In later stages of the disease, as the arch begins to flatten, there may still be pain on the inside of the foot and ankle and the foot and toes begin to turn outward and the ankle rolls inward.  One common finding is great difficulty or even an inability to raise up on your toes on the involved side.

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Peroneal tendinopathy: an injury to the tendons on the outside of the foot and lower leg.  It commonly causes aching along the outside surface of the lower leg and ankle that gets worse with activity, yet improves with rest. 

  • usually affects runners, dancers, basketball players, and those who have suffered ankle sprains causing them to have weakened ankles. 

Some of the most common causes of foot and ankle pain include:

  • Arthritis
    There are many different types of arthritis including rheumatoid, psoriatic, post-traumatic, and osteoarthritis. Symptoms often include swelling, tenderness, sharp pain, and sometimes fever in the case of inflammatory arthritis.
  • Fracture
    Fractures in the foot and ankle area can often be stress fractures, which are hairline cracks in the bone that often occur from repeated stress or activity over time.  Broken bones or fractures within the foot and ankle can come from a fall, exaggerated twisting motion, or tackle-like injury-causing the bones to break. Most people will have an inability to tolerate walking or even bear weight on the injured leg.  Other symptoms of fractures also include pain that intensifies when the affected area is moved or pressure is applied, swelling, bruising, and loss of function. 

Foot and ankle pain can be a short-term nuisance to a prolonged and chronic issue causing pain, limitations of activity, and changes to overall function. 

Chronic pain and immobility commonly lead to progressive weakness in other parts of the body due to disuse, changes in balance, and overall potential loss of independence. Understanding the different structures of the ankle, possible causes of injury, and ways to manage the pain is key to knowing when to rest, use ice, seek medical attention, or go to the hospital. 

Take the free Joint Health Assessment to learn the potential impact of your current activity limitations​

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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