4 Possible Reasons For Your Foot And Ankle Pain

Pain involving both the foot and the ankle can be a double dose of misery, especially if you lead an active life or work a job that requires constant standing and walking. The underlying causes of this discomfort can range of from age-related chronic conditions to acute injuries. Here are four possible foot and ankle issues commonly seen by podiatrists.

1. Arthritis

Arthritis is a variety of inflammation that causes pain, swelling, and deterioration of cartilage in joints. One-quarter of all your body's bones are located in your feet and ankles, allowing for 33 separate joints per extremity—so you can see how vulnerable this part of the body can be to arthritic stiffness and pain. Arthritis can take several different forms, the most common of which are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a slow, progressive destruction of the joint cartilage which can eventually result in painful bone-on-bone friction. It can occur either gradually, over a lifetime of wear and tear, or it can be accelerated by a traumatic injury to the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is a more acute, potentially crippling inflammation that sometimes disappears for long periods of time (or even permanently) for no known reason.

Since arthritis is a form of inflammation, your podiatrist may recommend the use anti-inflammatory medications to ease your symptoms. These may include either over-the-counter drugs or steroid-based substances such as cortisone or prednisone. If your foot or ankle arthritis has been aggravated by an unbalanced posture, you may also need customized orthotic footwear to compensate for any musculoskeletal abnormalities that throw your alignment off kilter.

2. Gout

If you're lying in bed peacefully one night when suddenly your big toe, foot or ankle experiences intense, agonizing pain, you might be suffering from gout. While gout is technically a form of arthritis, its causes, effects and treatment methods are distinctive enough to look at it as a separate condition. For one thing, your eating habits can play a huge role in the condition. Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream, and consuming lots of meats, seafood, fructose and alcoholic beverages can raise your uric acid levels significantly. In fact, gout used to be thought of as a "rich man's disease" because it's tied both to the consumption of rich foods and to the obesity that frequently results. But certain underlying conditions, medications, and a family history of gout can also be factors.

If you experience lingering pain, redness and swelling in the foot or ankle following the initial intense pain, your foot and ankle doctor will no doubt ask you about your dietary patterns and recommend the necessary lifestyle changes to help you get this problem under control. You may also receive medications such as:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Xanthine oxidase inhibitors, which help prevent the production to excess uric acid in the body
  • Probenecid, a drug that helps your body eliminate uric acid through the kidneys

3. Sprains and Fractures

This class of foot and ankle problem can produce similar symptoms, so you may not know what kind of injury you have until your podiatrist can run an x-ray. In both cases, you may have sharp, sudden pain followed by rapid swelling, stiffness and discoloration. You won't be able to put your weight on the injured foot or ankle --nor should you try, as it'll just increase the damage. 

Sprains and fractures require immediate first aid. Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) is the standard course of action to minimize pain and swelling until further care can be provided. Your podiatrist will show you how to bandage a sprained foot or ankle and prescribe anti-inflammatories and/or painkillers as needed. A fracture may need immobilization in a cast; if the bones in the foot or ankle have been dislocated so they can't knit properly, you may also need surgery. Last but not least, you will probably need some degree of physical therapy to help your foot or ankle regain full strength and range of motion.

4. Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs

Is your foot pain at its worst when you first wake up and walk around? If that's the case, then you have either plantar fasciitis or a heel spur. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of a tough band of connective tissue known as the plantar fascia. This tissue helps support the shape and elevation of the median arch, the largest arch in the foot. The plantar fascia can be strained by abnormally high or low arches, excess weight, and/or shoes that fail to provide proper arch support. If local nerves are pinched or otherwise irritated, you may also experience ankle pain. Treatments include orthotic insoles, night splints to keep the tendons from tightening as you sleep, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Heel spurs are bony overgrowths of the heel cone that irritate the plantar fascia. Most of the time, this problem benefits from the same treatment methods as plantar fasciitis. Occasionally, however, surgery might be necessary to shave off that annoying chunk of bone.

You'll almost certainly know if you've seriously injured your foot or ankle, in which case your best move is an immediate trip to the emergency room. But even a mild case of nagging foot or ankle pain, swelling or redness merits an appointment with your foot and ankle doctor. The sooner you get qualified help and advice, the sooner you'll be up and running again! Contact a clinic like Advanced Foot & Ankle Center of Palatine for more information.