What causes painful swollen ankles?

Painful swollen ankles are often a result of injury to the leg or foot area and can affect the cartilage, tendons and blood vessels connecting the lower extremities. The pain is linked with the swollen ankles, but there are instances when this is not the case.

Once the pain is accompanied by swelling, there is a possibility of a serious injury or the painful swollen ankles might indicate an underlying medical condition. The individual is recommended to schedule an appointment with a doctor once persistent painful swollen ankles occur.

Fractures and sprains

An ankle sprain involves stretching or tearing of the ligaments which are bands of fibrous tissue that connect the bones to one another as the possible cause for the painful swollen ankle. As for a fracture, it involves small-sized cracks in the ankle bone due to repetitive forces on the bone.

Painful swollen ankles

Various forms of arthritis can lead to painful swollen ankles.

Both sprains and fractures can lead to intense pain that intensifies with rest or movement and results to swelling of the affected area. The presence of pain is an indication in both instances that an injury occurred and proper care of the ankle is required to prevent the symptoms from getting worse. The RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is usually advised in managing painful swollen ankles until a doctor can properly assess the injury.


Various forms of arthritis can lead to painful swollen ankles. Septic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can cause pain around the ankle. When it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, it is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the body’s joints. The pain can occur in both ankles as well as other joints. Medications can reduce the pain and swelling linked with the condition, but it can last for a lifetime.

Osteoarthritis is also a lifelong condition that worsens gradually over time. This condition can affect any joint including the ankles and trigger painful swollen ankles during or after movement. As for septic arthritis, it develops due to a bacterial infection in the joints. This is often caused by infections in other parts of the body. Antibiotics are the main treatment for this form of arthritis. In addition, the condition is temporary once the infection is properly controlled.

Fluid leakage and retention

Fluid retention which leads to severe swelling or edema manifests once the blood vessels seep fluid in the body. As a result, the ankles are compressed by the leakage of fluid when the individual sits or stands in one position for extended periods due to high level of sodium in the diet.

The cause of swelling is not necessarily painful unless other health conditions are present particularly chronic leg vein insufficiency that instigates pressure and weakening of the legs. The painful swollen ankles due to fluid leakage and retention can be reduced by avoid sitting or standing in the same position for extended periods, exercise regularly and reduce the daily intake of sodium.


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