Managing Chronic Ankle Pain


Chronic ankle pain can have a significant negative impact on your daily life, making it difficult to walk, stand, or engage in other physical activities. Whether your pain stems from a previous injury, ailments like tendonitis, or age-related diseases like arthritis, managing pain in ankle areas effectively is crucial for maintaining mobility and reducing discomfort. Fortunately, there is an array of various chronic ankle pain treatment options you can try for natural relief.

Today, we’re discussing common causes of chronic ankle pain, some exercises to manage it, home treatment options, and ways to keep pain in ankle areas from worsening over time. Read on and make chronic ankle pain a thing of the past.

Common Causes of Chronic Ankle Pain

Learning how to manage chronic ankle pain begins by understanding what it is as well as the source of the pain.

Chronic ankle pain is characterized by persistent discomfort, soreness, or aching in the ankle joint that lasts for weeks, months, or even years. Unlike acute pain, which typically occurs suddenly due to injury or trauma, chronic ankle pain often develops gradually and can be caused by various underlying conditions. Identifying the specific cause of chronic ankle pain is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment and management strategies.

Some of the most common causes of chronic ankle pain include:

  • Ankle sprains: Ankle sprains are a common cause of chronic ankle pain, especially when your original injury doesn’t heal properly. If the ligaments surrounding the ankle aren’t fully rehabilitated after a sprain, they can remain weak and prone to re-injury, leading to chronic ankle pain and instability.
  • Arthritis: Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the ankle joint, causing chronic ankle pain, swelling, and stiffness. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions the bones in the joint breaks down over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the joint lining.
  • Tendonitis: Tendonitis happens due to overuse or repetitive strain. Activities that involve repetitive movements, such as running or jumping, can lead to irritation and inflammation of the tendons that cause chronic ankle pain.
  • Ankle instability: If you’ve experienced multiple ankle injuries, you may have ankle instability. It’s characterized by a feeling of the ankle "giving way" or feeling unstable during weight-bearing activities. 
  • Nerve compression and other causes: Chronic ankle pain can also be caused by other factors like nerve compression, vascular issues, or even pain from a problem in another part of your body. Identifying the specific cause of chronic ankle pain may require an evaluation by your doctor.

Ankle Pain Exercises for Relief

Ankle pain exercises play a crucial role in managing symptoms by strengthening your muscles, improving flexibility, and enhancing stability in your ankle joint. As you exercise, it's important to approach these activities with caution and respect your body's limitations. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of the low impact exercises as your ankle strength improves. If you experience severe pain or discomfort, stop the exercises and consult a medical expert immediately.

Some popular exercises for chronic ankle pain treatment are:

  1. Ankle and foot alphabet exercise
  2. Heel raises while sitting
  3. Eversion and inversion isometrics
  4. Standing calf stretch

1. Ankle and Foot Alphabet Exercise

This exercise involves tracing the alphabet with your toes. Perform this exercise daily to improve ankle flexibility and range of motion.

  1. Sit down with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Lift the injured foot off the ground and slowly trace each letter of the alphabet with your toes, moving your ankle in all directions.
  3. Repeat the alphabet 2-3 times, focusing on smooth and controlled movements.
  4. If experiencing chronic ankle pain in both ankles, repeat the process on both sides.

2. Heel Raises While Sitting

This exercise helps strengthen the calf muscles, which can improve ankle stability.

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Slowly lift your heels off the ground as high as you can, keeping your toes on the floor.
  3. Hold the raised position for 2-3 seconds then lower your heels back down.
  4. Repeat 10-15 times.

Gradually increase the number of repetitions as your strength improves.

3. Eversion and Inversion Isometrics

These isometric exercises help strengthen the muscles that support your ankle.

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Loop a resistance band around the top of your foot and hold the ends with your hands.
  3. Push your foot outwards (eversion) against the band's resistance for 5-10 seconds.
  4. Then, pull your foot inwards (inversion) against the band's resistance for 5-10 seconds.
  5. Repeat this sequence 10-15 times. You can increase the intensity as you build tolerance.

4. Standing Calf Stretch

This stretch helps improve calf flexibility, which can reduce strain on your ankle joint.

  1. Stand facing a wall and place your hands against the wall for support.
  2. Place one foot behind you while keeping that heel on the ground and your leg straight.
  3. Lean forward slightly to stretch your calf muscle.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds then switch legs.
  5. Perform this stretch 2-3 times on each leg, relaxing into the stretch each time.

Chronic Ankle Pain Treatment At Home

In addition to exercises, there are a wide variety of chronic ankle pain treatment options you can do at home to find relief and increase mobility. These treatments focus on reducing pain and inflammation as well as providing support to your ankle joint.

Some options for chronic ankle pain treatment at home include:

  • R.I.C.E. method: The R.I.C.E. method is an acronym that stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This is a common post workout recovery routine as well as an injury treatment option that helps reduce pain and swelling. Resting your affected ankle allows for healing, while applying ice packs for 15-20 minutes several times a day can help reduce inflammation. Compression bandages can provide support and reduce swelling while elevating your ankle above the heart level reduces swelling.
  • Zero gravity chairs: Using zero gravity chairs helps alleviate pressure on your ankle joint and provides relief from pain. It does so as you recline into the zero gravity position, in which your legs are elevated above your heart level. This neutral posture chair position not only alleviates pressure on the ankle joints but increases blood circulation which helps reduce ankle pain and swelling.
  • Bracing: Using ankle braces or supports helps to stabilize your joint and reduce strain. These devices provide additional support to the area, which can help reduce ankle pain and improve mobility.
  • Rest: Pain in ankle areas requires rest to heal. Avoid activities that exacerbate pain to prevent further injury and promote healing more quickly.

These home chronic ankle pain treatment options are meant to manage symptoms and improve your quality of life. Before beginning any new treatment routines, however, consult your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to do so.

Lifestyle Changes for Chronic Ankle Pain

In addition to specific exercises and home treatments, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help manage chronic ankle pain and prevent further discomfort.

One crucial component to consider is your footwear. Choose shoes that provide ample support and cushioning, especially around the ankle area. Avoid high heels and shoes without inadequate support, as they can make chronic ankle pain worse.

Maintaining a healthy weight is another important factor. Excess weight puts additional pressure on the ankles, which can exacerbate pain and increase the risk of injury. A balanced diet and regular exercise can help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reducing the strain on the ankles.

Finally, consider modifying your daily activities to minimize stress on the ankles. This may involve avoiding activities that involve repetitive or excessive ankle movement. For example, low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling can be gentler on your ankles while still providing beneficial physical activity.

Preventing Chronic Ankle Pain From Getting Worse

Preventing chronic ankle pain from getting worse involves taking proactive measures to protect and strengthen your ankle joint.

Doing a complete warm-up before engaging in physical activity prepares your muscles and ligaments for exercise, reducing the risk of injury. Avoiding overuse and taking breaks during repetitive activities prevents additional strain on the ankle. Additionally, maintaining flexibility through regular stretching works to reduce stiffness and improve ankle function.

By taking these preventive measures, you may help prevent chronic ankle pain from worsening and even improve your symptoms in the long term.

Managing chronic ankle pain involves a holistic approach that includes identifying the root cause of your condition as well as a combination of other strategies. Each person’s body will react differently, so it may take some trial and error to find a solution that works best for you. Consider targeted exercises for relief, implementing effective treatments at home, and ways to keep your chronic ankle pain from getting worse. By adding these strategies to your daily routine, you can improve ankle health, reduce pain, and enhance your overall mobility.

Disclaimer: This content is not medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare professional when considering implementing changes to your health or workout routines to ensure it’s compatible with your needs.