Foot and Ankle Pain: Common Causes and How to Manage

Although there are many possible culprits for foot and ankle pain, the most common cause is your shoes. Here are some suggestions for how to best manage these types of pains.

Woman and her injured foot.

The pair of shoes you wear could be the source of your ankle or foot pain.

Photo: © Micolino | iStock/Getty Images Plus

Your feet and ankles can attract a frightening array of diseases, and they can develop almost as many painful non-disease conditions.

However, one of the most common causes of foot pain is not a disease, a deformity, or an injury. It’s shoes: those that are too tight or too loose, that don’t provide lateral support or arch support, and that don’t cushion your feet. Also, shoes with high heels, or shoes that slip on the floor, increase the risk of falls.

At-Home Treatment

Many of the problems causing foot or ankle pain can be treated at home. The RICE protocol is a line of defense for pain, swelling, and inflammation.

  •  “R” is for REST. Stop whatever you’re doing that is causing the pain, at least until you know more about the underlying source.
  • “I” is for ICE. Apply ice packs to the foot or ankle for 15 to 20 minutes, several times a day.
  •  “C” is for COMPRESSION. If your injury is a foot or ankle strain or sprain, wrap it tightly enough to control swelling but not so tight that it cuts off circulation.
  • “E” is for ELEVATION. This one is not always practical, but worth trying: Elevate the affected foot or ankle at or higher than the heart to minimize swelling and control pain.
    Some foot and ankle specialists add a “P” in front of the “R” (making the acronym “PRICE”) when treating a muscle or joint injury:
  • “P” stands for PROTECTION, which means protect the affected area with padding, bandaging, wrapping, bracing, or splinting.

Medications Treatment

Treatment for foot and ankle problems often involves over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Some can reduce pain, some are effective at fighting inflammation, and some can do both:
Aspirin is for pain and inflammation.

  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) is for pain and inflammation.
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) is for pain and inflammation.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is for pain but not inflammation.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new drug or a drug that might have side effects or interfere with other medications you’re taking. Most are safe used for short-term relief, but each can cause problems for some people, especially if they have certain coexisting conditions.

NSAIDS like aspirin can cause bleeding in the stomach and intestines. Ibuprofen, also an NSAID, can cause stomach distress and bleeding, and should not be taken by people who have chronic kidney disease. The side effects of naproxen are upset stomach, abdominal pain, and bloating, among others. Acetaminophen is generally safe in terms of bleeding risk but can cause liver damage if taken in excessive doses.

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if you notice these symptoms: Severe pain or swelling Unable to walk or put weight on your foot Swelling that doesn’t improve after a week of home treatment Increased pain, redness, tenderness, or heat Persistent pain after two weeks Fever over 100°F with no apparent cause Burning pain, numbness, or tingling.
To learn about foot and ankle pain, purchase Foot & Ankle Health: Treating and Preventing Common Conditions, Ailments, and Injuries at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.

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