Causes of Ankle Pain After Running and Treatment Options

Whether you’re a long-time, avid runner or have just added jogging to your workout, ankle pain after running is a common issue.

Regardless of your age, the benefits of physical activities such as running are many. Regular cardiovascular exercise can decrease your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and other health issues. Running can help you sustain a healthy weight, relieve stress, and enhance your mental outlook.

But as most of the estimated 50 million running Americans would likely agree, at least a little pain comes with the territory. Running is a high-impact physical activity. Stress to weight-bearing joints such as knees and ankles is unavoidable. This is especially common in athletes.

Though joint and muscle pain in the legs, hips, and lower back are not uncommon, ankle pain is often the most debilitating. So if you want to avoid long-term injury, you should take it seriously.

What Causes Ankle Pain After Running?

There are many possible causes of ankle pain after running. Sometimes it is a chronic issue. Other instances may feel minor but could, if left untreated, lead to more serious conditions.

The most common types of ankle pain result from muscle strains, sprains, or tears. They often occur when the runner’s foot is suddenly unstable during a running session. This may result from running on an uneven surface or a sudden change in speed or direction.

Ligaments are especially vulnerable to injury when stretched beyond their normal range of motion. If you’ve ever rolled your ankle inwardly or outwardly while running, you’ve likely felt the pain of a sprained ligament. In more serious cases, the ligament may partially or completely tear.

How to reduce ankle pain while running

You can help reduce ankle pain while running by:

  • Learning and consistently practicing proper running form.
  • Wearing proper shoes.
  • Avoiding uneven surfaces.
  • Being aware if you are putting more strain on your ankle with sudden changes in speed or direction.

Strengthening muscles around the ankle can also help prevent the risk of ankle pain. Weak muscles around the ankles may lead to more ankle rolls than usual because your joints have less control over them.

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What Are the Symptoms of Ankle Sprains and Strains?

The severity of ankle pain caused by injury can vary. Symptoms of ankle sprains or strains may include:

  • Pain, both at rest and during activity.
  • Noticeable swelling compared to the non-injured ankle.
  • Bruising or change of color.
  • Tenderness to the touch.
  • Instability of the ankle, or even the feeling that your ankle may give out.

Some of the symptoms of a severe ankle sprain are similar to those of a broken bone. This would require prompt evaluation by a medical professional.

How Do I Treat Ankle Pain?

To treat ankle pain, remember the RICE approach:

  • R: rest. Your body has a natural healing process, but it takes time. You will need to minimize physical activity and stop running until your pain has improved. Otherwise, you risk worse injury. Take this time to engage in other forms of low impact cardiovascular exercise while your ankle heals.
  • I: ice and cold therapy. Apply ice packs to the swollen area to temporarily numb the pain and reduce inflammation.
  • C: compression. Tightly wrap your injured ankle with medical tape. You can find this at most pharmacies or from your doctor or training professional. A splint may prove necessary to support and stabilize the ankle.
  • E: elevation. When possible, keep your ankle raised above your heart when you sit or lie down. This should help reduce swelling while you rest.

Other ankle pain treatment options

To relieve the pain, you may consider taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as naproxen or ibuprofen. Please read the label and consult with your doctor. Your doctor may also recommend other over-the-counter treatments such as water pills (known as diuretics) that can decrease swelling over time.

For severe ankle sprains, you should seek medical attention. This would be necessary when the ligaments connected to the bones in your ankle become torn.

Your doctor or podiatrist may recommend physical therapy to regain strength and motion in the affected ankle. Very rare circumstances may require surgery.

Take Ankle Pain Seriously

The running industry estimates that as many as eight in 10 serious runners will sustain an injury during a 12-month period. This means some sort of pain is almost unavoidable if running is part of your usual exercise regimen.

Ankle pain after running is a serious matter. It could be a warning sign for additional health problems if your muscles, ligaments, or tendons don’t get the opportunity to heal.

Reach out to the running experts at UPMC if you have any concerns.

American Podiatric Medical Association. What is a Foot or Ankle Sprain or Fracture? Link

Bojana Galic, NASM-Certified. 126 Running Statistics You Need to Know. Livestrong Link

Bradley M. Kruckeberg, MD, Taylor Beahrs, MD, Steven L. Haddad, MD. Sprained Ankle.

OrthoInfo, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Link

About Sports Medicine

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