Definition and Overview

Ankle problems refer to a wide range of conditions and injuries that can affect the structure and function of the ankles. While some of these problems can go away on their own or can exist without any need for treatment, most require some form of intervention, which can include rehabilitation or physical therapy, medications, and surgery.

The ankle, which is found just above and on the side of each foot, is a joint that is composed of three types of bones, two of which are from the legs. These are called tibia (shin bone) and fibula (which is right next to the shin bone). The third one is connected to the foot bone, and it is called the talus. There are also protrusions, which are also made up of bones. They are the ones that you see and feel when you touch the ankle.

Bones, however, are not the only ones that form part of the ankle. They are also composed of ligaments, which bring the bones together. These are the ones that help provide the structure and support for the ankle. There are also tendons and muscles, both of which are responsible for the motion.

Overall, ankles play a huge part in a person’s ability to move, especially the foot. It allows the upward-and-downward, as well as side-to-side motion of the foot. This means it’s the reason why a person can run, jump, and walk, among others. The ankle’s responsibility is to quickly adapt to the surface to give foot balance and gait. Thus, when an ankle suffers a problem, the person’s motion becomes painful and limited. In the long run, this can decrease the person’s quality of life or even put his or her own life at a greater risk.

Causes of Condition

There are many possible causes of ankle problems. One of the most common is injury, which may result from performing certain activities, such as lifting heavy objects or engaging in sports, or accidents like falling off the stairs or losing one’s footing when running. There may also be swelling or muscle strain, which can make walking or doing any foot movements very painful.

Certain ankle problems can also be congenital, which means it begins at the time when the person is still in the womb. Normally, congenital deformities develop due to a defect or mutation of certain genes, or “incorrect” development of the joint.

These include a cavus foot, which is characterized by a more elevated foot arch and flexed toes, and a clubbed foot, wherein the toes are facing toward the other leg. Many people, on the other hand, are born flat footed. These can be determined by the lack of visible foot arch when the person stands up, so the entire foot is strictly on the surface.

Other causes may include the incomplete treatment or recovery of a problematic ankle. For instance, if the ankle’s sprain isn’t completely healed and is left on its own, it can complicate, which may then lead to chronic lateral ankle pain. This may also develop if there is there is a scar tissue.

An underlying condition such as diabetes can also be a potential culprit of ankle problems. Diabetes can significantly increase the sugar level in the blood and one of its consequences is nerve damage, which may prevent the natural healing of any part of the foot that may have been injured.

Key Symptoms

  • Tenderness or soreness in the ankle
  • Redness
  • Low-grade fever
  • Difficulty in walking or doing other movements in the foot
  • Deformity of the foot and ankle
  • Pain, which may range from mild to severe
  • Bruising

Who to See and Treatments Available

Some problems of the ankles are common and simple they can be treated by general doctors and internists. However, if they require a more complex intervention, patients are usually referred to an orthopedic specialist, such as a surgeon.

Ankle problems can be detected through a series of tests including a physical exam. The doctor would take note of the possible cause of the pain, or feel the joint for any tenderness or soreness. It may sometimes be necessary to let the patient perform certain motions such as standing or walking to further assess the condition.

For a more definite diagnosis, the doctor then asks for imaging tests such as X-rays as well as CT and MRI scans to obtain a better picture of the current problem of the ankles.

From there, the doctor can recommend treatments. For very mild cases such as a simple sprain with a bit of inflammation or swelling, complete foot and ankle rest for a pre-determined amount of time and ice compress are usually enough to address the problem. The foot may also be slightly elevated to improve the circulation of blood in the area.

If there is pain, the doctor can provide a pain reliever, which may be taken only when it’s necessary or when the pain becomes less tolerable. If there is persistent inflammation, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be prescribed.

Surgery is considered only when the ankle is out of shape or position. This can be because of a deformity or a very serious injury such as a bone fracture. One of the common surgeries carried out is the ankle fracture surgery. During this procedure, the broken bones are pieced together before metal plates and screws are added to give the bones more stability. People who have gone through significant injuries to the ankles usually undergo rehabilitation or therapy, which will help them restore ankle movement.

Certain appliances can also reduce ankle problems. Orthopaedic braces, for example, can be worn to give the foot and ankle stability and support, especially while the patient is still undergoing therapy or at least a couple of weeks after surgery. Shoe inserts, on the other hand, are recommended for people who have flat feet.

References:

  • http://www.sw.org/surgery/podiatric-common-foot-ankle-problems
  • http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ankleinjuriesanddisorders.html
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