Ankles are joints that connect bones in the feet with bones in the lower leg. They are comprised of bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves. The ankle joint allows the foot to move side-to-side, as well as up-and-down.
Ankle pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, but is most commonly due to soft tissue injuries such as ankle sprains and strains.
An ankle sprain occurs when one or more of the strong ligaments that support and stabilize the ankle become overly stretched or even torn if the ankle rolls, turns, or twists awkwardly. Depending on the grade of sprain (mild-moderate-severe), there will be varying degrees of pain, swelling, and restricted range of motion, along with tenderness, bruising, and ankle instability. There may even be an audible popping noise at the moment of injury.
Ankle strains can sometimes produce similar symptoms of pain, swelling, and loss of motion, however, they are due to overly stretched muscles and tendons—not ligaments. Ankle strains may also cause muscle cramps in the feet, calves and shins.
Ankle fractures are another common source of ankle pain and occur one or more of the three bones in the ankle become fractured (broken). These breaks can be stress fractures (due to repetitive stress) or traumatic fractures (due to an acute injury). Depending on where and how severe the fracture is, symptoms can include pain and swelling that can sometimes spread up to the knee, bruising or discoloration, and an inability to bear weight. A visible deformity or exposed bone may occur in severe fractures.
Various forms of arthritis may also cause ankle pain. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes the immune system to attack healthy joints, like the ankle joint, by mistake, causing stiffness and swelling in both ankles. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage covering the ends of bones wears down, causing the bones to rub against each other. This results in pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion in the ankle. Gout is a form of arthritis where excess amounts of uric acid in the bloodstream crystallize and build up on joints, causing severe pain and swelling. Reactive arthritis causes joint pain and swelling in the ankle in response to an infection in another part of the body.
Other forms of ankle pain include bursitis (an inflammation of a cushioning bursa sac between tendons and bone), scleroderma (a thickening of connective tissues), chronic ankle instability (caused by improperly healed ankle sprains), Achilles tendon injuries, flat feet, or an infection in the ankle.
As you grow older, you will start to notice more problems with your feet due to wear and tear. This may also happen because the skin will start to become thin and lose elasticity. Some signs of aging feet are regular aches and pains, bunion development, and clawed toes.
Fortunately, there are ways you can improve comfort, relieve pain, and maintain mobility in your feet. One of the best ways to deal with aging feet is to exercise. If you keep active, your muscles will become toned which will then strengthen the arches in the foot and stimulate blood circulation.
It is important that you practice proper foot care to protect your aging feet. You should wash your feet in warm water on an everyday basis. Afterward, the feet need to be dried well and it is important to dry between the toes. Your toenails should be trimmed and kept under control; nails that are poorly cut may become ingrown. At the end of each day, performing an inspection of your feet will allow you to detect any ailments in their early stages.
As you grow older, it becomes more important that you wear comfortable shoes. Your shoes should be secure, and they should provide decent arch support. If you are looking to buy a new pair of shoes, it is best to look for a pair that are made from a breathable material. It is also helpful to have shoes that have a bit of extra room at the top of the shoe, especially if you suffer from swollen feet.
The most common foot problems that elderly people will encounter are bunions, calluses, corns, hammertoes, heel pain, and foot problems related to diabetes. Some other issues include arch pain, tarsal tunnel syndrome, Achilles tendonitis, and Morton’s neuroma
An annual foot examination is a great way for you to ensure that you do not have any serious health problems with your feet. You should talk to a podiatrist about the available treatment options for whichever foot issue you are dealing with.
Stress fractures are small breaks in the bone that are caused by repetitive stress. They typically occur due to overuse, forcing the bones of the foot or ankle to continually absorb the full impact of each step taken. Stress fractures can also be caused by abnormal foot structure, osteoporosis, bone deformities, or wearing improper footwear during exercise.
Stress fractures are common for individuals whose daily activities cause high levels of impact on their feet and ankles. Those who run, play tennis or basketball, or practice gymnastics tend to experience these fractures more frequently. Anyone is susceptible to this problem, though. Individuals who are normally sedentary and suddenly begin an intense, high impact workout may sustain stress fractures. This is because their muscles are not yet strong enough to handle and cushion the intensity of their activity. Osteoporosis may also cause someone to get stress fractures, because the disease weakens an afflicted person's bones and makes it easier for them to break down.
Pain from stress fractures typically occurs in the general area of the fracture. Pain can also manifest as “pinpoint pain” or pain that is felt when the site of the injury is touched, and can be accompanied by swelling. It may occur during or after activity, and it may disappear while resting and return when standing or moving. Engaging in any kind of activity, high impact or otherwise, will aggravate the pain. If the intensity of the activity increases before the stress fracture has properly healed, it can cause a full fracture.
Treatment can vary depending on the individual and the degree of injury. The primary way to treat a stress fracture is to rest the hurt foot. Some fractures will heal quickly with only a little bit of rest, while others may require a long rest period and the use of crutches, immobilization, or physical therapy. Under certain circumstances, surgery may be required to install support pins around the fracture to assist in healing.
If you are undergoing a new exercise regimen in running or some other kind of high impact activity, set incremental goals on a weekly basis so you can build up muscle strength. Make sure to wear supportive shoes to better protect you feet.
If you begin to experience any symptoms of stress fractures, you should stop exercising and rest. If the symptoms persist, consult with your podiatrist. Remembering these tips can help you prevent stress fractures to your foot and ankle, and allow you to continue living normally.
When conservative, noninvasive methods prove ineffective, surgery may be selected as the next course of action for the treatment of your foot or ankle condition. A wide number of foot and ankle surgical procedures exist, and it is up to your podiatrist to determine which intervention will be most appropriate and helpful for your case. Some surgical procedures include bunion surgery, fusion, hammertoe surgery, heel spur surgery, metatarsal surgery, nail surgery, neuroma surgery, reconstructive surgery, skin surgery, and tendon surgery. Typically, surgery is turned to as a definitive way to alleviate excessive pain or discomfort and to return your foot to full mobility.
Regardless of the location on the body, all surgical procedures require preoperative testing and examination to ensure the surgery’s success and preferred outcome. A review of your medical history and medical conditions will take place, as will an evaluation of any current diseases, illnesses, allergies, and medications. Tests such as blood studies, urinalyses, EKG, X-rays, and blood flow studies may be ordered. Because the procedure involves the foot and/or ankle, the structures of your feet while walking may also be observed by your podiatrist.
Care post-surgery will depend on the type of surgical procedure performed. Typically, all postoperative care involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation. To improve and ensure a safe recovery, your foot and ankle surgeon may also employ the use of bandages, splints, surgical shoes, casts, crutches, or canes. He will also determine if and when you can bear weight. A timely and thorough recovery is a priority for both you and your podiatrist, and carefully following postoperative instructions can help achieve this.