Pain is the body’s way of saying something is wrong, but it is not always clear what is causing it. A proper ankle pain diagnosis would include a physical exam, medical imagery such as an x-ray or MRI scan and a history. The combination of these three tools will help medical professionals determine what is causing the discomfort and create a treatment plan. Consider some common causes of ankle problems.
The ankle is an intricate network of bone, ligaments and tendons. One of the key elements is connective tissue that runs over the back of the ankle down under the foot. The Achilles tendon is the structure that allows flexibility of the foot. When damaged, it causes intense pain and reduced mobility. Injury to this area might include rupture or chronic tendonitis.
The ankle is prone to bone spurs – small projections that grow along the edges of the bone. Imagine a small, pointy stone that is stuck in your shoe. It may be just annoying at first, but over time becomes painful. A bone spur works in much the same way. Eventually, it can cause damage to the delicate structures of the ankle.
The most obvious cause of pain is trauma. You might have twisted or turned your foot. The doctor will take an x-ray to see the bones when making an ankle pain diagnosis. Part of what he is checking for is fracture.
Don’t dismiss a break just because you have not injured your ankle. Stress can lead to tiny tears in bone that grow over time. Anyone who is active in sports, or even just walks a lot, is at risk for a stress fracture.
The other thing a doctor will check for on the x-ray is a sprain or strain of some kind. Fractures involve the bone – sprains are about the connective tissue. A strain is stretching of a ligament or tendon, and a sprain is a tear in the fiber. Both can potentially be as serious as a break. They take time to heal. The medical staff will immobilize your foot with a cast or brace to allow that to happen.
Disease is possible culprit. Gout comes on suddenly and can cause intense pain. The area around the ankle will be red and tender. A person stricken with gout may feel discomfort in other joints, as well, especially the big toe. Gout occurs when crystal builds up in the open spaces of the joints. The crystals feel like broken glass rubbing against the structures.
For people who have not been in an accident or suffered trauma, arthritis is the most likely diagnosis. Osteoarthritis means the cushioning between the hard surfaces of a joint is gone and the bone is rubbing enough to cause inflammation and pain.
Only doctors can diagnosis ankle pain. If you are having difficulty, immobilize the area with a wrap or brace and make an appointment with your primary care physician.