Why Does My Ankle Hurt When I Walk?

Woman experiencing ankle pain

FatCamera / Getty Images

Walking is one of our most basic means of transportation and something many of us rely on to get from point A to point B. That is why there are few inconveniences more pesky than pain that makes it difficult to move—especially foot or ankle pain.

If you are experiencing pain in your ankle or foot, you are not alone. According to a survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) as many as 77% of American adults have been impacted by ankle or foot pain in their lifetime.

While any foot pain can be debilitating, ankle pain, in particular, can often prevent a person from walking properly, which can directly impact their livelihood. Here is what you need to know about ankle pain, including how to treat it and how to prevent it.

What Ankle Pain Means 

There are plenty of reasons why a person might experience foot and ankle pain. Some of the most common, according to David Garras, MD, Chicago-based foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon with Midwest Orthopaedics Consultants, include a sprained ankle caused by physical activity and plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of a ligament that connects the heel bone to the toes.

“Usually, you develop the pain associated with plantar fasciitis at the heel, but it can be anywhere between the heel and the toes,” Dr. Garras says.  

Another reason that a person might develop pain around the ankle or foot when they walk is tendinitis. Even some health conditions like arthritis can lead to foot and ankle pain.

“If you happen to have a flatfoot or collapsing arch or high arch, you tend to stress various muscles and tendons more because of the way your foot is shaped,” he says. “Less likely is pain caused by arthritis that can develop in any of the many joints in your foot and ankle.” 

While ankle pain is relatively common, it is not the norm and it should not be something that you suffer through. In fact, it is important to see a healthcare provider or an an orthopedic physician who specializes in foot and ankle sooner than later to avoid any extended damage on your joints.

How to Avoid Ankle Pain 

Of course, the best way to avoid ankle pain is to try to avoid any injury to your ankle area. But because we often have little control in these situations, here are some tactical solutions for protecting your ankles from pain. 

Invest in Quality Footwear

If you spend time hiking or walk quite a bit for fitness or fun, it is important to wear appropriate footwear. Not only can well-fitting and well-made footwear keep you from getting injured, it also can improve your performance.

“Many injuries and problems arise when patients are performing activities without the proper equipment, especially when it comes to shoes,” says Jason Patterson, MD, Gilbert, Arizona-based orthopedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle. “High-top hiking shoes when hiking, proper running shoes when jogging or running, and taping or bracing the ankle if there is some instability when doing cutting sports like tennis is vital.

He also recommends replacing shoes every 6 to 12months. It also is important to check the wear and make sure they are still in quality shape for the activity you are participating in.

Skip the High Heels

When possible, avoid high heels, or wear them occasionally. Heels can cause the ankle muscles to contract in an effort to keep you standing and walking.

“When the muscles get used to this over time, they begin to weaken leading to ankle instability, which can lead to more serious problems including leg and back pain and even nerve damage,” Dr. Garras says. 

Stretch Often

One likely offender that is causing your ankle pain is your Achilles tendon. This tendon sits in the back of your ankle.

“It is the biggest and strongest tendon in your body and so it can overpower the smaller tendons in your foot and ankle leading to a lot of ankle pain and tendinitis,” says Dr. Garras. “The easiest and simplest Achilles stretch is standing on the edge of the stair with your foot halfway on the stair, your knees locked straight, and then drop your heel below the stair.”

When doing this, he recommends holding onto something for balance. He suggests 10 reps held for 20 seconds each repeated a few times every day. 

Strengthen the Muscles Around Your Ankle 

To avoid sprains and strains, Dr. Garras recommends training your ankle to respond by strengthening the muscles around it. The easiest way to do this is by standing on one leg and balancing like a flamingo.

“Stand on one leg for at least 10 to 15 seconds, switching up the legs a few times a day,” he says. “Once you master that exercise, then challenge yourself by standing on a pillow or a rolled-up towel.”

He also recommends strengthening your ankle muscles by squatting on one leg. If you feel like you are off balance, stay close to a wall for support.

“Make sure to always alter legs to even out strength and stability, as this will help you avoid injury and ankle pain,” he adds.

Seek Early Treatment When in Pain

If you are suffering from ankle pain, don’t try to suffer through it. The sooner you get evaluated by an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist, the sooner you can feel rest assured that you’re not causing further harm.

“Most foot and ankle problems are more easily treated if treatment is started early instead of waiting for weeks or months,” Dr. Patterson says.

Tools to Use for Ankle Pain 

If you are experiencing ankle pain that worsens when you walk, there are plenty of at-home tools that can be used to minimize that discomfort. Immediately upon feeling any pain sensations, Dr. Garras recommends applying ice to the affected area to reduce inflammation. He recommends applying ice for 20 minutes and then taking a break for 20 minutes before reapplying. “Make sure that the ice is wrapped in a towel so it’s not directly touching the skin,” he adds.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like Tylenol, Motrin or Aleve are also helpful when used in short durations and in small quantities, according to Dr. Garras. These medications help reduce inflammation and pain which could hasten your recovery.

“After a day or two on these over-the-counter drugs, if the pain continues, you should arrange for a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle injuries," he says.

Compression garments, such as compression socks, can also help by reducing the swelling around the ankle caused by inflammation. But they may not be right in every situation.

“They have also been shown to increase the ankle’s ability to determine where it is in space and therefore its ability to react in the event of a sprain or twist,” adds Dr. Garras.

When to See a Doctor

Luckily, most ankle and foot pain is short-lived and goes away on its own, especially when the physical activity that is causing it ceases. Persistent ankle pain and/or swelling that does not go away with rest, or ankle pain that worsens with minimal activity can be concerning.

If your ankle pain has lingered without improvement for more than 3 days after you have rested, applied ice and taken anti-inflammatory medications, consult a healthcare provider or an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle problems. 

A Word from Verywell

While ankle pain is not uncommon, it is not something that you should have to suffer through. There are plenty of at-home exercises that you can do to help strengthen your ankle muscles as well as at-home tools and remedies to alleviate pain and discomfort.

If you’re experiencing chronic ankle pain that doesn’t go away with rest, exercises, and pain relief, it is a good idea to seek a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle injuries to determine if further intervention may be needed. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I keep walking with ankle pain?

    Pain most often signals that there is an issue in the affected area, such as inflammation, a sprain, or a muscle pull. For this reason, it is usually not a good idea to try and push through, especially when it comes to ankle pain. Doing so, could make some problems worse. A good rule of thumb is to consider what could be causing your ankle pain and to seek advice from a healthcare provider rather than pushing through the pain.

  • How do you strengthen weak ankles?

    If your ankles are feeling weak, whether they feel off-balance or sore, stretch often and practice balancing on one leg. These exercises can be done at home without the need of any big and expensive equipment. If you are seeing a personal trainer, you can also have them work with you on strengthening exercises.

  • Do ankles get weaker with age?

    Many parts of the body get weaker with age but the same is not true for your ankles. In fact, the most common reason for ankles to become weak is due to inactivity. Make sure you are exercising at least five times a week—walking, biking, yoga, swimming, and Pilates are all great exercises for ankles.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Podiatric Medical Association. Public opinion research on foot health and care.