What’s causing your ankle and heel pain?

Our feet are some of our most used body parts, which is why they tend to be more susceptible to overuse and injury.

Ankle and heel pain can be caused by a variety of injuries and health conditions, and treatment can range from rest to urgent care if required. In most cases, a podiatrist can help diagnose and provide appropriate therapies for your pain.

Here are some of the most common causes of pain in the ankles and heels:

1. Plantar heel pain

Plantar heel pain (previously referred to as ‘plantar fasciitis’) is one of the most frequently diagnosed causes of heel pain. It occurs when the plantar fascia – a type of ligament which connects your heel to the front of your foot – becomes inflamed after being stretched or torn.

People at most risk of developing plantar heel pain are:

  • People aged between 40 – 70 years.
  • People who are obese or pregnant, as the extra weight puts more strain on their feet.
  • People who engage in physical activities or jobs that require being on your feet for long periods of time (such as athletes and service workers).
  • People with certain health conditions or structural foot issues that create abnormally high feet arches or flat feet.

The first line of treatment for plantar fasciitis starts with resting, icing, stretching and massaging the feet; changing to sturdier and more supportive shoes; using braces and crutches for extra support; taking anti-inflammatory medications; and other physical therapies. If the pain does not subside in a couple of weeks, specific exercises, footwear modification and special inserts (orthotics) can be provided by our podiatrist.

In more severe cases where symptoms aren’t resolved, other treatments such as steroid injection, shockwave therapy or surgical management can be considered.

2. Ankle arthritis

Arthritis is the general term for a group of diseases that cause inflammation and degeneration of the body’s joints, with the feet being one of the most common areas affected.

Ankle arthritis can cause your ankle joint to feel swollen, stiff and painful, and over time can cause deformities in the joint and reduce your ability to walk.

Given that there are many types of arthritis, there are different risk factors and required treatments for each.

Amongst the most typical forms of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. This is where the joint cartilage wears away from repeated stress and is most commonly observed in adults aged 55 years and over. Osteoarthritis in the ankle can sometimes be caused by a fracture or sprain.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, making them feel swollen, painful, and stiff. Over time, it can cause bone erosion and deformities in the joints.

To manage symptoms of arthritis and improve performance a combination of treatments and life style changes can be provided by our podiatrist to ease your symptoms and improve your quality of life. These include strengthening exercises, choosing appropriate footwear and orthotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroid shots for temporary pain relief.

3. Ankle fracture (or broken ankle)

If you suspect that you’ve fractured your ankle and are in a lot of pain, then you should immediately seek urgent care.

Typical signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • Pain, tenderness, and swelling at the site of injury, which increases when you put more weight on the injured ankle.
  • Bruising or blisters that gradually appear at the site of injury.
  • Bone protruding through the skin or other visible deformities of your ankle following injury.

While a fracture (a full or partial break in the bone) and a sprain can feel similar, it’s best to get your foot checked out by a doctor so that it can be properly treated and prevent further injury or complications.

While the initial diagnosis and treatment of a fractured foot requires medical intervention, a podiatrist can assist with injury rehabilitation and safe return to sports and activities.

If you have been experiencing ongoing pain in your ankle or heel, you can visit a podiatrist with or without a doctor’s referral.

Brecken’s experienced podiatrist, Noosha Beshad, can help you with diagnosis and treatment, as well as work with your GP to ensure you have a comprehensive treatment plan in place.

4. Achilles tendinopathy

The Achilles tendon lies at the back of your ankle. It is a thick, fibrous tissue that attaches your calf muscle to your heel. The function of the tendon is to transmit the forces of the calf muscle to your foot, allowing you to do movements such as point your toes, run and jump.

Those who have recently become more active, such as taking up jogging or a jumping sport, can commonly encounter an Achilles tendinopathy. A change of footwear, particularly to unsupportive flat shoes, can also trigger the condition.

An Achilles tendinopathy results from overuse. It tends to occur as a reaction to an increased demand on the tendon, beyond its capabilities. If you’re experiencing Achilles tendinopathy, you might feel pain and stiffness that may reduce in the short term with brief gentle movement. The pain tends to increase when a load is placed through the tendon after periods of immobility, such as first thing in the morning or stepping out of the car after a long drive.

Treating an Achilles tendinopathy starts with activity and footwear modification. If stress continues to be placed on the tissues, the tendon will become more and more irritated. Our podiatrist can help diagnose and provide appropriate therapies for your pain. Make sure to bring your sport shoes to the appointment!

Book your appointment with Noosha here or call us on (08) 9791 8133.