The ankle is a complex joint that has to deal with a lot of movement and pressure. The good news is that your ankles are used to putting up with it. But the bad news is that there are still plenty of injuries and conditions that damage the joint’s tissues, resulting in pain. So if you’ve started feeling ankle when walking, here are the likely causes and how to address them.
What causes ankle pain when walking
Flat feet. Just like the spine should be in an s shape to distribute pressure evenly, your foot should have a good arch. If you were born with flat feet or have collapsing arches due to injury, your ankles will roll outward. While the condition doesn’t usually cause pain (especially if you’ve had it from birth), this positioning of your ankle leads to worse weight distribution and may lead to foot, ankle, and even knee pain when you’re on the go.
Injury. Ankle sprains and Achilles Tendonitis are common causes of ankle pain. The former affects the ligaments, the tough fibrous tissues responsible for stopping your ankle from moving too far in any direction. The latter, meanwhile, affects the Achilles tendon, which helps with foot flexion and extension (bending and straightening) movements. But while they’re very different tissues, injuries to them often result in swelling, redness, and ankle pain when you walk.
Osteoarthritis. The smooth cartilage disks responsible for shock absorption and smooth movements degrade, thinning out and turning rough. Without a healthy layer for shock absorption and with the cartilage grating against other structures, it’s not surprising that many with the condition feel pain in their ankles while they walk.
Weak muscles. If you’ve dramatically increased the amount of walking you do or have recently sustained an injury, your muscles may not be ready to handle your full body weight without extra help, putting more pressure on ankle cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.
Tense muscles. Muscle tension in the calves or feet can pull on the joint, preventing it from tracking properly. If you’re dehydrated, do a lot of physical activity without a proper recovery routine, or wear high heels often, your muscles are more likely to tense up.
Poor recovery from an old injury. It may be the case that your ankle pain is due to an old, not fully healed injury acting up. Whether you’ve sustained a sprain, strain, or fracture in the past, not taking the necessary precautions like resting, bracing, or even just returning to regular sports activities too soon can start undoing the healing process, leading to pain down the line.
How to relieve ankle pain when walking
Fortunately, most of these issues are treatable or at least manageable.
Wear good shoes
First things first, wear good shoes as often as possible. Also, switch high heels to flats. Put simply, a painful ankle will always benefit from the extra support a pair of sneakers can provide. Not to mention, high heels can actively make your pain worse as they lock your foot in an awkward downward slope, causing your ankle stabilisers to work overtime and your calves to contract and tighten.
Now, we know it’s not always possible to wear sneakers. So if you need to wear fancier footwear for work, you can slip in an insole. For instance, our EgoPad Redux Heel 2 or WeightlFlex 2EgoPad Redux Heel 2 or WeightlFlex 2, for instance, can help manage pain associated with flat feet. It’ll also help stabilise your step, relieving some of the strain on your ligaments and tendons.
Get an ankle brace
Medical-grade ankle braces can do a lot for pain relief. Soft compression knit braces like our MalleoTrain might not look like much, but they can be great supports and pain relievers for milder tendonitis, sprains, and even osteoarthritis. Their built-in silicon pads actively massage affected areas to relieve pain. Their compression knit, meanwhile:
- Controls the adduction and abduction of the joint (essentially the inward and outward angling and roll), offloading pressure from painful areas.
- Stimulates the muscles so they can act as better supports for the joint.
- And it stimulates blood flow, speeding up recovery and helping tense muscles relax.
Not to mention, these braces feel pretty much like socks, so they’ll be easy to slip into any shoe and walk around in without restricting movement.
However, you may need a rigid brace for more severe sprains, tendon tears, and osteoarthritis cases. Their splint, strapping, and padding construction will provide external support to the joint, helping relieve more pressure. Don’t worry, though. Not all rigid braces are as bulky as moon boots. Our MalleoLoc will fit into most shoes and under most pantlegs. You’ll also be able to flex and extend your foot and ankle enough to walk comfortably.
Learn more: Do Ankle Braces Actually Help?
Do some exercises
Ankle pain is often the result of muscle weakness and tension, especially if that came about due to injury. So naturally, a good way to relieve it is by improving the joint’s strength and flexibility through specific exercises. Even in cases of osteoarthritis, strengthening and stretching the muscle tissue around the joint can partially offload the pressure on your damaged cartilage and reduce the stiffness that often appears in the mornings.
Some of the best exercises to try include:
- Single leg stand. It will strengthen your ankle and improve its stability. Stand on one foot for 20 seconds, then switch. Repeat 3-4 times. To make balancing easier, try to focus on a fixed spot like a picture frame. To make it more challenging, close your eyes.
- Plantar and dorsiflexion. These movements will help improve your ankle’s flexion and extension (how far you bend it and your foot upward and downward). For this exercise, you should sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you and your heels hanging over a ledge (like a stair). Point your toes as far down as you can without moving your knees, then release. Point your toes back up toward you as far as you can, then release. Repeat each motion 20 times.
- Calf raises. These will strengthen your calf muscles, which play an important role in supporting and moving your ankle. To do this exercise, stand upright and lift your heels off the floor. Repeat 15-20 times.
Especially if you’ve suffered an ankle injury, be mindful of your comfort levels throughout these exercises. If you feel pain, you can reduce the number of reps you do or add a brace for extra support.
See more ankle exercises: How to Restore Ankle Mobility After Injury.
Seek specialist advice
When it comes to joint pain, it’s always good to get a professional assessment. Even if the cause of the pain seems clear-cut (like a sprain you got while playing sports), the injury may be worse than it appears or point to an underlying issue.
Along with a proper diagnosis, specialists like physiotherapists and osteopaths can:
- Recommend a specific exercise plan
- Massage out muscle tension
- Recommend any additional pain relief options like over-the-counter medications and steroidal injections.
Most importantly, don’t just stop walking
The ironic thing about feeling ankle pain when walking is that walking is often key to resolving it. We know it can be tempting to stop the activity causing you pain, but if you do so long enough, you’ll decondition the joint. This means the soft tissues will get weaker and stiffer, leading to even more pain when you need to move around. Of course, you shouldn’t just go on a hike if you’ve torn your Achilles tendon. Always talk to your doctor before returning to your regular activities to see if it will be safe for your ankle.
If you find getting around too painful even with your doctor’s go-ahead, we’d strongly recommend getting a quality brace to help you. You can also try taking short breaks on your walks. If you have an ankle injury, we recommend decreasing your walk distance and gradually building it back up.
To sum up
You might feel ankle pain while walking for many reasons, from an overuse injury to a relatively simple case of calf tension. But in most cases, combining bracing, stretching, strengthening, and decent footwear will help you relieve it. Just keep in mind that not all ankle braces are made equal and that getting specialist advice will always be better than going it alone.
If you require assistance selecting the right product for your needs or wearing the brace, call us on 1300 668 466 or contact us via live chat.Do you have private health? Most private health extras will cover Bauerfeind Products. Check to see if yours is included. Bauerfeind Private Health Insurance Inquiry.