What is Chronic Lateral Ankle Pain?

Chronic lateral ankle pain is a longstanding or recurring pain in the outer aspect of the ankle that is often experienced after an acute ankle injury such as rolled ankle or sprained ankle.

Characteristic Features of Chronic Lateral Ankle Pain

Chronic lateral ankle pain is usually characterized by a dull and constant ache in the outer ankle region that makes it difficult for you to walk, run, or participate in sports. The intensity of the ankle pain is often increased with walking on uneven ground or wearing high heel shoes.  Symptoms that might accompany chronic lateral ankle pain include ankle stiffness, swelling, and instability.

Causes of Chronic Lateral Ankle Pain

The common causes for chronic lateral ankle pain include:

  • Return to physical activities before complete healing of an ankle sprain
  • Ankle arthritis
  • Ankle tendon or ligament injury
  • Fracture of one of the small bones of the ankle
  • Scar tissue formation after an ankle injury that might be pressing against a tendon
  • Inflammation of the ankle joint lining

Diagnosis of Chronic Lateral Ankle Pain

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms, aggravating and relieving factors, and any history of a previous ankle injury. A physical examination will be performed which will include palpating the ankle joint, and testing range of motion and strength. An X-ray may be ordered to look for bony abnormality such as a fracture. If no bony pathology is found, an MRI or CT scan may be ordered to look for soft tissue abnormality in the region.

How to Treat Outer Ankle Pain

The treatment for chronic lateral ankle pain will depend on the diagnosis. The various treatment options include:

Nonsurgical Treatments: 

  • Medications to reduce pain and swelling
  • Physical therapy protocols such as tilt-board exercises to improve stabilizing muscles, range-of-motion exercises to improve joint flexibility, and resistance training to improve strength
  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation
  • Use of an ankle brace to provide ankle support
  • Joint immobilization to heal an ankle fracture

Surgical Treatments:

  • Excision and removal of loose fragments of bone, tendon, or tissue from the ankle
  • Cleaning of debris from the joint lining or inside the joint
  • Reconstruction or repair of torn ligaments or tendons

Preventing Chronic Lateral Ankle Pain

Chronic lateral ankle pain may be prevented by taking the following precautions:

  • Wear comfortable, snugly fitting shoes.
  • Use the right shoes and ankle supports when participating in sports.
  • Avoid returning to sports until fully healed after an ankle injury.
  • Participate in physical therapy protocols as instructed by your doctor.