As a runner, you work your ankles hard. So dealing with ankle pain, while not ideal, is not uncommon. If you’re going through this, this article is for you. We’ll cover a list of causes, ways to treat ankle pain, and how to prevent ankle pain in the future.
By the end of the article, you’ll know how to figure out why your ankles are hurting and how to fix it. Plus we’ll cover some tips to return to running after you’ve had an ankle injury.
How Common are Sore Ankles From Running?
Sore ankles from running are very common. It is probably one of those things that runners complain about the most.
One study found that foot and ankle issues account for 28% of all running injuries. That means over ¼ of running injuries can be linked to your foot or ankle.
It can be easy to forget about your ankles until you’re in intense pain. The pain from an ache after a long run and a sprain from running into a tree root on a trail run are two very different things, though. To treat pain properly, you have to be able to diagnose it.
What are Some Common Ankle Pain Symptoms?
If you are dealing with ankle pain, you might feel a sharp pain anywhere around the joint, whether it’s the front or back. You could even feel like someone keeps pinching you around your ankle.
On the other hand, it might be a lighter pain that just won’t go away. Stiffness around the joint, while technically not pain, is a warning sign that should not be ignored. You could see some bruising around your ankle, or find that it’s more challenging to walk and run or even bear weight on that leg.
Why Do My Ankles Hurt After Running?
If you’re a runner, you’re most likely going to experience ankle pain from one of four reasons. See which one best describes you.
Sprained Ankle And/Or Instability
If you’ve had a sprained ankle before, you know exactly what it feels like. Ankle sprains are stretched or torn ligaments that can cause intense pain. You’ll typically have a swollen, bruised ankle and you won’t be able to put weight on it.
To make sure that it’s not another ankle injury, think about when it happened. Did you trip over something? Was there a loud popping sound? Did you twist your ankle?
If there is a lot of swelling and if you feel pain even when you’re not bearing any weight, it’s probably a strain.
If you’re able to get back up and walk again, you might not want to bother doing anything. It’s nonetheless important to take care of this injury so that it doesn’t become something more serious.
If you run a lot, then you’re a good candidate for a stress fracture, which is an overuse injury. If you’re upping your miles too quickly, aren’t cross training, and aren’t getting proper nutrition, you’re at risk to develop tiny cracks in your bone. This is a stress fracture. Rather than the bone breaking from an sudden shock, it gradually gets weaker because of repetitive stress.
While you could see some swelling, it likely won’t be as much as an ankle sprain. You’ll likely experience pain that gets increasingly worse but isn’t as bad when you aren’t on your feet. And you might see some bruising.
Shin splints can be a sign of the beginning of a stress fracture (although “shin splints” is a catch-all term for pain in the front lower leg, and can be muscular in nature). If you don’t take some time off when experiencing pain from a stress fracture, you could be sidelined for months.
As the name implies, tendinitis occurs when a tendon is inflamed or irritated. In this case, it’s your Achilles tendon, and it can be caused by running too much, doing the same thing over and over, or having a physical attribute like flat feet.
If you feel pain on the back of your foot just above your heel, you probably are suffering from Achilles Tendinitis. There might be some slight swelling and perhaps a dull ache. You also might be more likely to experience symptoms in the morning.
Finally, you could be dealing with ankle arthritis. This is not just for masters runners. It can happen to anyone. If you have a lack of mobility or stiffness around your ankle, then you’re possibly dealing with arthritis.
Make sure that you see if the symptoms get worse, and if so, definitely see a doctor so that you aren’t dealing with terrible ankle pain the rest of your life.
What are Other Ankle Pain Causes?
While you could be dealing some sort of injury if you’re experiencing ankle pain, it also could be something that isn’t a new injury. It could be due to footwear or even your physical attributes.
This is the easiest cause of ankle pain to fix. If your shoes are causing you to overpronate, meaning that your foot is rolling inward too much, then you can end up with an ankle injury. Force overpronation can put extra strain on your ankle tendons. All you have to do is buy a pair of shoes that works for you. We’ve compiled a list of running shoes for ankle pain here.
Re-Injuring an Old Sprain
The bad thing about spraining your ankle is that it can occur again. Once you sprain your ankle that first time, it’s more likely to happen again in the future. So be especially aware of ankle pain if you’ve dealt with a sprain before.
If you’re running too much, whether that’s too many miles in a week or going too hard during those miles, you are at risk for an overuse injury. Similarly, if you start adding more miles too soon and your body isn’t ready for that, you could suffer an overuse injury.
The simple solution is to cut back your mileage and your intensity and likely both. Runners who are gung-ho enough to add tons of miles are probably running them too fast.
Finally, you need some movement in your ankles in order to be able to run without injuring yourself. If you don’t have enough movement in your ankles, that could be another cause of ankle pain. Stretching and mobility exercises will get your ankles back to their flexible old selves.
How Can I Relieve Ankle Pain?
As you’re figuring out what has caused your ankle pain, make sure that you’re taking care of your injury both immediately after it happens and as time goes on.
Immediately After Ankle Pain
In order to reduce swelling, use ice and elevate your ankle. Remember to avoid putting ice directly on your bare skin. Instead, wrap a bag of ice or bag of frozen veggies in a towel and then place it where it hurts.
You’ll also want to take over-the-counter pain meds so that it’s not as uncomfortable. Add an ankle brace to give you extra stability when you have to walk around.
As Your Ankle Injury Begins to Heal
As things start to get better, begin adding some stretching for your ankles and Achilles tendon into your routine.
Some options include ankle circles – slowly moving your ankle in circles to the right and then left. You can also try drawing the alphabet in the air with your foot. Make sure that you aren’t moving your entire leg, but are focusing on your foot and ankle.
For your Achilles tendon, you can do a stretch that is like a calf stretch. Put your hands against a wall and place one leg in front of the other. Bend the front knee until you get a stretch in the back leg, but keep the back leg bent just slightly in order to stretch your Achilles tendon.
You’ll also want to do strength exercises. You could do things like standing on one leg so that you’re improving your balance and the strength of your ankle. Bonus points if you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed. You can also move up to plyometric workouts, like standing squat jumps.
How Can I Prevent Ankle Pain?
If you don’t want to deal with ankle pain in the future, you should try wearing an ankle brace, which will help give your ankle stability and make it less likely for you to deal with stress fractures.
If you want a less invasive option, you can also try kinesio tape to wrap your ankles so that they have additional support without the bulk of an ankle brace. Having a supportive tape wrap will limit your motion just enough to keep you safe.
How Can I Return to Running After an Ankle Injury?
Like most runners who are biting at the bit to get back to running after an injury, you might be wondering when you can start running again.
First, you have to remember that you need to take things slow. You’ll want to ease your way back into your running routine just like when you were new to running. Slowly build more miles into your week when you see your ankle is holding up well.
Second, you shouldn’t even be thinking about running until you can walk again without pain. Although you might want to cut corners, remember that you’re pounding the pavement with a force of 2-3x your body weight when you run. You have to make sure your ankle is strong enough to handle that.
Finally, keep an eye on how things are going as you get back into running. If things start to go south, take a couple days off to give your ankle more time to heal. The last thing you want is to be out for months.
Nobody wants to deal with ankle pain, but it’s a pretty common injury for runners. By figuring out what exactly caused the pain, you’ll have a better idea going forward of what to watch out for.
And by following the tips for recovery and prevention, you should be back on the road in no time. Be sure to watch out, though, for any fallen trees to make sure that you don’t sprain that ankle!