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What Causes Ankle Swelling?

Jan 12, 2015

The ankle is one area of the body that is commonly injured. Twisting the wrong way, colliding with a person or object, and landing in a certain position are all easy ways to injure your ankle and cause swelling.

If you’re experiencing swelling, you may be suffering from one of the conditions or injuries below.

Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle is a very common ankle injury that occurs when the ligament is stretched beyond its typical range.  This can happen when you step on an uneven surface and roll your ankle or simply take a misstep. When you sprain your ankle, you will experience a great deal of swelling, tenderness, bruising, and pain when moving it or when at rest.


A stress fracture is a hairline break in the bone that typically occurs in the foot or the ankle, since these bones bear the weight of the body. When the muscles are absorbing a great deal of shock, they get tired and stop absorbing this energy. This means the bone takes the shock and then cracks. A stress fracture is not very serious, but it does cause pain and swelling. A few days of immobilization will typically be enough to heal the fracture.

Sometimes fractures are more serious than stress fractures and the ankle bone breaks. The severity of an ankle fracture varies from still being able to walk on it, to requiring immobilization or casting. A fracture will cause swelling, pain, bruising, and tenderness.

Ankle Arthritis

Arthritis is commonly found in the foot and ankle, and is a painful swelling of the joints. This can make walking difficult and affects the daily life of patients.

There are three different kinds of arthritis that can affect the ankle: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is known as wear-and-tear arthritis. This occurs when the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones wears down and causes the bones to rub together. This results in the swelling and inflammation of the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis is where the disease attacks the patient’s immune system and destroys cartilage on the ends of bones.

Post-traumatic arthritis typically occurs after a foot or ankle injury. This is common in athletes who spend years dealing with mild to severe injuries.

These injuries cause a lot of pain and swelling in the ankle, as well as tenderness and sometimes bruising. While it’s important to see a doctor as soon you experience symptoms, there are some treatment methods that can be beneficial in the meantime.

Non-Operative Treatment Methods


The R.I.C.E. method – rest, ice, compression, elevation – will decrease inflammation and swelling and reduce pain when you’re dealing with an ankle injury. Rest your ankle by not moving it or putting any weight on it, then apply ice to the painful area for 20 minutes on, then 20 minutes off, and repeat. Compress the injury by wrapping an ACE bandage around your ankle and elevate the ankle with pillows while you’re laying down or sitting, so that it’s in a position higher than your heart.


Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen can be beneficial in reducing swelling.

If you’re experiencing ankle swelling, try these treatment methods and schedule an appointment with a doctor to diagnose your injury. In the case that your injury is too severe to be treated with non-operative methods, your physician may suggest orthopaedic surgery.

For more information about common foot and ankle disorders and injuries, click hereto download our e-book, Pains and Sprains: A Complete Guide to Foot Injuries and Disorders. This educational guide will help you understand your symptoms and the treatment options available to you.