I sprained my ankle a while ago, why does it still hurt?

Chronic lateral ankle pain is prolonged pain affecting the outside of the ankle that persists well after an injury occurs. An ankle sprain or twist is the most common injury affecting the ankle. When the injury is not treated correctly, patients can develop chronic lateral ankle pain as a direct result of poor healing of an ankle injury.

Chronic lateral ankle pain often affects athletes or patients who are highly active. Many times, a patient will sustain an injury and continue to play their sport without allowing the ankle to heal properly. This creates lots of problems for that patient in the future as far as chronic pain. The scar tissue from the sprain can develop further and become painful due to lack of immobilization.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Ankle instability
  • Difficulty walking on uneven ground or in high heels
  • Pain, sometimes intense, on the outer side of the ankle
  • Repeated ankle sprains
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness

Although ankle sprains are the most common cause of chronic lateral ankle pain, other causes may include:

  • A fracture in one of the bones that make up the ankle joint
  • Arthritis of the ankle joint. This would develop gradually over an extended period of time and cause the ankle joint to become inflamed and irritated
  • Inflammation of the joint lining
  • Injury to the nerves that pass through the ankle. In this case, the nerves become stretched, torn, injured by a direct blow, or pinched under pressure
  • Scar tissue in the ankle after a sprain. The scar tissue takes up space in the joint, putting pressure on the ligaments
  • Torn or inflamed tendon
  • Infection of the ankle joint. Bacterial infections in the ankle are exceptionally rare, but could occur more commonly among patients with AIDS or diabetes. This can occur when bacteria enter the ankle through puncture wounds or openings in the skin such as abrasions or ulcerations. Patients with AIDS have weakened immune systems that can’t fight off the bacteria.

Treatments for chronic lateral ankle pain include:

  • Over the counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling. Note: Please consult your physician before taking any medications.
  • Physical therapy. This includes strengthening exercises in order to focus on gaining strength and stability while restoring the patient’s range of motion in the ankles. This can involve tilt board exercise or exercises where patients stand on one foot.
  • Ankle braces or other supports.
  • Steroid medication.
  • Immobilization to allow the bone to heal (in cases of fractures).

To insure that you do not suffer from chronic lateral ankle pain, treat an ankle sprain or injury correctly the first time. If you sustain an injury to your ankle or foot, do not hesitate to contact Dr. Danciger’s office to set up an appointment and get the care, treatment, and diagnosis you need. Chronic lateral ankle pain can persist for long periods of time if untreated; with proper care this does not need to be the case. 

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle