Content Editor

Advice and information for patients
Your feet and ankles are complex structures composed of lots of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.  The ankle is a weight-bearing joint where three bones meet – the tibia and fibula (the bones in the lower leg; the 'nobbly bits' either side of your ankle), and the talus.  The talus is a wedge-shaped bone that sits on top of the heel bone, the calcaneus.  Additionally, in the foot, there are lots more smaller bones, all designed to help the foot move and adapt to the surface we are walking on.  Ligaments (strong bands of tough, fibrous tissue) hold the bones together.  Tendons attach muscles to the bones to move the joints.  The foot and ankle complex is complicated; it has to be because to keep us upright and balanced!  It is perhaps not surprising therefore that it is prone to injury.  Any of the structures – the ligaments, tendons, bones – can be injured.

Foot and ankle pain
Foot and ankle pain often results from a simple strain or sprain.  "Strains" are injuries to muscles or tendons and "sprains" are injuries to ligaments. Such 'soft tissue injuries' may be caused by a specific injury or may gradually build up over time.  For example, a common ligament sprain to the ankle occurs when we 'go over' on our ankle when walking on uneven ground.  Most foot and ankle pain has a simple cause and clears up within a few days; sometimes it lasts a few weeks.  However, even more persistent problems, such as long standing ligament or tendon problems, or osteoarthritis can be self-managed successfully.

How can I help myself to get better?
Minor injuries, such as mild sprains and strains, can often be initially treated at home using a protection, rest, ice regime for the first two or three days after onset:
  • Protection – protect the affected area from further injury; for example, avoid the painful activities that may have caused the injury if this is easily traced.  However do not stop moving altogether as this will likely cause your ankle to stiffen further.
  • Rest – rest the ankle for two or three days only. Resting the foot/ankle for a short time may help any inflammation or discomfort to settle.  However resting beyond two to three days may lead to the surrounding muscles becoming weaker which will not be helpful in the longer term.
  • Ice – should you notice any swelling or tenderness around the joint, apply an ice pack to the affected area for about 15 minutes every two to three hours.  This may help to reduce the swelling and  give  some pain relief.  A bag of frozen peas, or similar, will work equally as well. 
    • NB  please be sure to wrap the ice pack / frozen peas in a moist towel or similar to avoid direct contact with the skin.
 Contrary to many people's beliefs, it is good to stay active when you have pain in your soft tissues or joints. As we have said, pain can be the result of overuse or overtraining.  If this is the case, try to reduce the amount of activity (rather than stopping it altogether) that may be exacerbating your symptoms for a short period, until the pain settles.  You should then aim to slowly work back up to your previous activity level.  If exercising does not affect your symptoms or improves them, try to stay as active as possible.
  • Some basic exercises can be useful in easing your ankle pain and to help it move better.  These simple foot and ankle exercises from ARC UK may be a useful starting point.  ARUK ankle pain exercises
  • Pain relief  through  medication may be useful – however it is essential that prior to using pain-relieving medication that you check with either your GP or pharmacist that you are OK to use them - even if they are "over-the-counter" type medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or creams that you can buy at the chemist.
When should I see my doctor or physiotherapist?
Foot/ankle pain usually gets better or improves on its own, or with the self-management approaches as discussed above.
However you should seek medical advice for the following: 
  • After a sudden traumatic injury such as a fall onto a hard surface, a high impact injury or a sudden twisting injury.
  • If the pain is severe or knee is hot or very swollen
  • If you have tingling or numbness in the leg
  • If you develop foot or ankle knee pain at the same time as feeling unwell or if you develop a fever similarly to the onset of your foot or ankle pain, it is possible you may have developed and infection of the joint, so you should see your doctor immediately/the same day.  If  you  are  unable to  see your  doctor  you  may  need to  attend at your local Walk in Centre or A+E.
The Healthy Living Teams in provide tailored support and guidance to local people who would like to be more physically active.  To find out more about the programmes available, please click on the link below for your Borough: