Ankle problems

Ankle problems can cause a range of symptoms including pain, swelling and stiffness.

In many cases, new or 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

Speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible if:

  • there's been significant trauma, for example a fall from height or direct blow to the ankle
  • your ankle is misshapen
  • your calf is hot, swollen and tender
  • you've difficulty putting weight on your leg
  • you've pain that's worsening

What causes ankle problems?

Ankle problems are fairly common and can be caused by injuries such as tripping or going over on your ankle.

Muscle weakness around the ankle can also cause ankle problems to flare-up now and again. It may also be due to a flare up of an existing problem.

Can this 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

Self-help

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.

Exercises to help with ankle problems

Resting or moving?

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

  • rest your ankle in an elevated position but avoid long spells of not moving at all
  • move your ankle gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you're awake

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
  • 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

Pain treatments

Pain medication can help to reduce the pain and help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.

Speak to your community pharmacist or other healthcare professional about taking medication or other methods of pain relief. It's important to take medication regularly.

More about taking painkillers

Work

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

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.