Ankle problems

Ankle problems can cause a range of symptoms including:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • stiffness

In many cases, new pain or a flare-up of long-standing ankle problems should begin to settle within 6 weeks without the need to see a healthcare professional.

When to seek help

Phone 111 if:

  • there’s been new significant trauma within the last 7 days, for example a fall from height or direct blow to the ankle
  • your ankle is misshapen
  • you’ve difficulty putting weight on your leg

Contact your GP, or phone 111 if your GP practice is closed, if:

  • your calf is hot, swollen and tender
  • you have pain that’s worsening despite following self-care advice

What causes ankle problems?

Ankle problems are fairly common and can be caused by injuries like tripping or going over on your ankle. They can also be caused by a flare up of an existing problem or muscle weakness around the joint.

It’s common to have soft tissue injuries in the ankle. Soft tissues include ligaments, muscles and tendons.

Further information on soft tissue injury.

Can ankle pain cause problems anywhere else?

You may feel some pain in the muscles around your calf and foot. This should improve as your ankle problem gets better.

Ankle problems can also cause limping. If the limp is severe, using a walking stick on the opposite side to your ankle problem may help.

How to use a walking stick.


There are a number of things you can do to help your ankle problem.

Keeping your ankle moving is an essential part of your treatment and recovery.

How to get moving

Within the first 24 to 48 hours of the onset of an ankle problem you should try to:

  • reduce your activities but move as much as your symptoms allow
  • put your ankle in an elevated position, when resting
  • move your ankle gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you’re awake
  • avoid long periods on your feet

When using stairs it may help to:

  • lead with your good leg when going upstairs to reduce the strain on your ankle
  • lead with your problem leg when going downstairs to reduce the strain on your ankle
  • use a handrail (if available) when going up and downstairs

After 48 hours:

  • try to use your leg more – exercise really helps your ankle and can relieve pain
  • do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work – this is important and is the best way to get better

It’s beneficial to do specific exercises that can help in your recovery. They may be challenging at the beginning so just do what you can and try to build it up over time.

Exercises to help with ankle problems

Benefits of keeping active

Keeping active is an essential part of your treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Being physically active can:

  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • help you aim for a healthy body weight

Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement. Remember to warm up before sports.

Pain treatments

The following can help to reduce the pain:

  • pain medication – this can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery
  • heat or ice packs

More about taking painkillers.

Treating with ice or heat

Heat or ice can be beneficial in the management of musculoskeletal pain.

Ice is most beneficial if your ankle problem is related to an injury. You can try heat to help your pain levels if there’s no swelling and your symptoms are not related to a recent injury.

Never place ice or heat directly on your skin. Use a barrier, like a towel, to protect your skin from a burn.

How long you use ice as a treatment can vary. However, you should generally apply heat or ice for up to 15 minutes. You should also leave a few hours between treatments.

You should stop treating the area with ice or heat and seek advice from a medical professional if you notice an increase in redness, discolouration or blistering of the skin.

If you have any issues with circulation or sensation, you shouldn’t use ice or heat as a treatment for ankle pain.


It’s recommended you stay at or return to work as quickly as possible during your recovery. You don’t need to be pain or symptom-free to return to work.

Help and support

Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time.

You should see the biggest change in your symptoms within the first couple of weeks. Most problems should have improved within 6 weeks.

If your ankle problem hasn’t improved within 6 weeks of following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Find out how to access MSK services in your area.

Last updated:
02 February 2023