Physical Therapy for Ankle Pain

Physical therapy is an effective treatment for those experiencing ankle pain. Here, we discuss the causes of ankle pain, how the causes are diagnosed, and most importantly, how physical therapy can be an effective treatment in alleviating discomfort and restoring functionality.

Whether you’re experiencing the occasional twinge or grappling with chronic ankle instability, feel free to get in contact with the experts at Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine. You can find us in Granville and Coshocton, Ohio.

Understanding Ankle Pain

The ankle is the meeting of the bones of your lower leg (tibia and fibula) and your foot bone (talus). These bones are supported by ligaments and tendons. The ligaments also connect muscles to these bones to allow movement. Ankle pain can be caused by any one of these structures.

A common cause of pain is an ankle sprain. Other causes can include arthritis and fractures. Simple treatments can be used to treat ankle pain, such as rest, ice, and over-the-counter medicine. Physical therapy is recommended in many cases of ankle pain to restore mobility and strength.

What Causes Ankle Pain?

There could be many possible causes of your ankle pain. Some of the common reasons why you may have ankle pain are as follows:

  • Sprained Ankle: Ankle sprains occur when the foot rolls sideways. It refers to a tear in an ankle ligament. Ankle sprains may be more likely if you have weak, injured, or uncoordinated leg muscles.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune condition where the body mistakenly attacks joint tissues, leading to pain and inflammation.
  • Osteoarthritis: Also known as degenerative arthritis, the cartilage within the joint gradually deteriorates over time, resulting in pain and stiffness.
  • Flat Feet: This condition is characterized by the absence of a distinct arch, potentially causing misalignment and subsequent ankle discomfort.
  • Ankle Fracture: A break can occur in one or more of the ankle bones. Fractures cause pain and swelling.
  • Achilles Tendinitis: This refers to tiny tears in your Achilles tendon as a result of sudden strain. You will feel tenderness and warmth in the back of your heel.
  • Achilles Tendinosis: This occurs over time through overuse. The degeneration of the Achilles tendon causes heel pain and you may feel a bump in the tendon.
  • Chronic Lateral Ankle Pain: This condition refers to long-term discomfort perhaps caused by a previous ligament sprain that didn’t heal properly.
  • Bursitis: The bursa are fluid-filled sacs that cushion the space between ligaments and bones in the ankle joint. Arthritis, overuse, or footwear can cause the bursa to become inflamed, leading to stiffness and swelling.
  • Osteochondral Lesions of the Talus (OLT): The cartilage or underlying bone in the ankle joint can get damaged in a sprain or fracture. You may notice your ankle catching or locking in certain positions.

Symptoms That Can Accompany Ankle Pain

Along with ankle pain, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Inability to stand or walk on the affected foot
  • Throbbing
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • A feeling of instability in the ankle joint

How is Ankle Pain Diagnosed?

Your doctor will begin by taking a look at your ankle and foot. They will look for swelling and bruising around the ankle. They will gently press around your ankle to identify areas of tenderness.

In some cases, you may need an imaging test such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan. These will allow your doctor to see the condition of the bone and soft tissues around your ankle.

A woman getting physical therapy treatments for her ankle pain.

Physical Therapy for Ankle Pain

Physical therapy is recommended for many causes of ankle pain. It is recognized that physical therapists can help those with ankle sprains to recover faster. A physical therapist will create a tailored plan to address the pain, restore normal movement, and strengthen surrounding muscles.

Physical therapy can help in the following ways:

  • Initial Management: In the acute phase, emphasis is placed on rest, ice application, and controlled weight-bearing under the guidance of a physical therapist. You may require an ankle brace to protect healing tissues.
  • Pain and Swelling Control: Your physical therapist may use ice, heat, electrical stimulation, and specialized taping techniques to relieve discomfort and reduce inflammation.
  • Range of Motion and Flexibility: Gradual introduction of passive and active exercises are used to restore joint mobility and flexibility.
  • Strength and Endurance: Specific ankle exercises are given to strengthen the supporting structures in the ankle. Cardio exercise equipment may be used to improve ankle endurance.
  • Balance and Agility: Exercises can be given to improve proprioception, balance, and agility. These exercises help with injury prevention.
  • Home Exercise Program: Customized home exercise regimens allow you to continue making improvements between therapy sessions.

Schedule Your Consultation Today

If you have an ankle injury or another cause for ankle pain, schedule your appointment with Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine. Our orthopedic experts are serving patients in Granville and Coshocton, OH. For personalized care and expert guidance in managing ankle pain, contact us to book your appointment today!

Medically reviewed by Brad L. Bernacki, MD