Treating Chronic Ankle Pain

Ankle Pain

Foot and ankle injuries are among the most common injuries presenting to primary care offices and emergency departments. In the United States, there are an estimated 50 million sports injuries per year, with foot and ankle injuries being the most common, making up about 20 percent (approximately 10 million) of the total. While some of these injuries will resolve on their own with time, rest, ice and immobilization, many injuries can result in chronic pain and need the attention of a foot and ankle specialist. 

Anatomically, the ankle is made up of three bones and one joint. However, the ankle also relies on two other small joints to function properly. Because of the complexity of these joints and how they work together, it can be difficult to determine exactly where pain is coming from. Oftentimes, a patient will think they have ankle arthritis when the problem is coming from the foot, as in the case of a flat foot deformity, or fallen arches. 

While X-rays can be helpful in determining the cause of pain, they only give part of the picture. Other imaging techniques like MRI and CAT scans can help provide a better look at structures that don’t appear in a normal X-ray, and they provide a three-dimensional look. Injection of local anesthetic into the ankle and foot can be very beneficial in helping to determine specifically which joint is causing pain, and steroids can be injected easily to provide significant relief. 

Ankle arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that can be used to diagnose and treat problems in the ankle joint. Conditions that commonly can be addressed arthroscopically include arthritis, ligament injuries, bone spurs, scar tissue, cartilage damage and general inflammation of the soft tissue lining around the ankle. The minimally invasive approach decreases the risk of infection and psst-operative pain, and in many cases patients are able to resume activity more quickly. 

Continued pain after having an ankle fracture, whether or not it is fixed, or a sprain, can easily be assessed by a specialist. Cartilage damage and ligament damage are not visible on an X-ray, and are commonly missed by MRI. These issues generally can be treated arthroscopically and help to eliminate the lingering symptoms of an ankle injury. Seventy percent of all ankle arthritis is post-traumatic; that is, occurring after a fracture or sprain. With end-stage ankle arthritis, options are to fuse or replace the ankle joint. While these both can greatly improve the quality of a patient’s life, they can be avoided in many cases by seeing a specialist early.

If you are suffering from foot and ankle pain, ask your doctor about a referral to one of SwedishAmerican's foot and ankle specialists today.

Michael Corcoran, DPM, FACFASMichael Corcoran, DPM, FACFAS, is a podiatric surgeon and podiatrist. He sees patients at SwedishAmerican's Brookside Specialty Center in Rockford and Belvidere Clinic in Boone County. Dr. Corcoran is a native of Rockford and graduated from Boylan High School. He has a special interest in total ankle replacement, flatfoot reconstruction and rear- and forefoot reconstruction.