Swollen ankles can be problematic for many people. Concerns can stem from appearance to questioning whether it is a result of a more serious issue.
So, what causes swollen ankles?
This is a frequently asked question by our patients at Move Better for Life. While there are many reasons why your ankles swell, our team has noticed some particular trends. This article will address 3 of these reasons and ways to help you get back on your feet!
1. Being inactive, especially those with underlying medical conditions
More so than ever, Australians are living sedentary lives. Desk jobs. Retirement. Walking less. These are the behaviours and habits that are fastly becoming more prevalent. Inactive people are more likely to have swollen feet and ankles, particularly those with an underlying medical condition (such as lymphoedema, heart disease, or oedema). Sitting for lengthy durations reduces the ability of the muscles to pump the blood around the pool. As a result, fluid retention and pooling of the blood begin to occur at the lowest part of the body (i.e. the feet and ankles).
Solution: Regular movement and exercise can assist the body’s muscles in pumping blood around the system. The World Health Organization suggests more than 20 minutes of moderately paced walking every day. Consider seeking an exercise physiologist for more specific recommendations for those limited by an underlying health condition or physical impairment.
2. Ankle osteoarthritis
Whilst not as regularly seen, osteoarthritis can also occur in the ankle joint. Swelling can occur in both the foot and ankle due to inflammatory changes in the joint. As the condition progresses, the cartilage between the connecting bones (i.e. tibia, fibula and talus) begins to wear out. What’s important to understand is that the role of the cartilage is to help with smooth movement between the joints. Without it, the increased friction between these joint surfaces can cause irritation and swelling that accumulates in the ankle. This condition often occurs in those with previous traumatic ankle injuries or an underlying medical condition.
Solution: Swelling in the ankle accompanies pain, loss of mobility and reduced function. Although there is no cure for ankle osteoarthritis, simple activities can be performed to reduce symptoms. Leg elevation, a home rehabilitation program and hands-on therapy are simple treatments that can help make the condition more tolerable. We recommend seeing your physiotherapist help suggest more specific tips for your situation.
3. Ankle sprains and long-term ankle instability
Unlike the two previous causes, acute ankle sprains are usually felt immediately. Swelling becomes visible within minutes to hours after trauma, such as rolling the ankles, landing awkwardly or direct impact. While most mild to moderate sprains will recover, about 1 in 5 people will experience long-term ankle instability. As a result, swelling in the foot and ankle can persist. Especially those who repeatedly sprain their ankle may feel that the ankle is less stable and continues to give way spontaneously. These types of repeated trauma to the ankle can develop into chronic swelling in the region.
Solution: Whether you’ve sustained a recent ankle injury or experiencing long-term instability, it would be advised to seek medical treatment. After these types of injuries, specific deficits will continue to linger. Those with these problems will almost always have poor balance and muscle weakness to some extent. Unfortunately, until these deficits are addressed, they can cause ongoing swelling in the ankle and feet. Especially with ankle sprains, seeing a physiotherapist as soon as possible is indicated for a fast recovery and to decrease the risk of developing long-term conditions.
At Move Better for Life, we want to get to the root cause of your ankle problems. If you’re struggling with swelling, stiffness, pain or reduced mobility, please contact us today. Our team of physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and occupational therapists will tailor a solution for you. For more information, please make a booking here.