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Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Foot and ankle

Foot and Ankle Pain

Most people experience pain in and around their feet or ankles at some point in their lives.

It’s one of the most complex, hard-working regions of your body. It has 26 bones and 33 small joints, all held together by a network of soft tissue made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.

Most cases of foot or ankle pain are short term and are caused by soft tissue injuries, such as sprains or strains.

These should gradually heal with the help of simple self-care measures. Though some could take a few months to fully recover, you probably won’t need to seek treatment from a healthcare professional.

However, some pain can have no obvious cause or may not improve significantly with self-care.

Pain that seems to be getting worse, does not improve, or lasts longer than a few months could be due to structural changes in the foot or ankle, or an underlying condition.

There can be several explanations for long-term pain in and around the feet or ankles, such as:

  • badly fitting footwear
  • osteoarthritis
  • inflammatory arthritis
  • connective tissue diseases
  • poor blood circulation
  • nerve damage.

How can I treat foot or ankle pain when it starts?

Most foot or ankle pain can be treated without the need to see a healthcare professional.

Soft-tissue injuries should begin to improve over the first few days with the help of some simple self-care tips. You may need to be careful and protect the injured area for several months, until it has fully recovered.

Self-care tips

Paracetamol and pain-relieving gel should help reduce your pain and discomfort.

There are four steps to treating pain, known as RICE therapy, which can help improve healing, particularly in the first 2-3 days, these are:

  • Rest – try to avoid putting weight on the injured foot or ankle. Do not exercise, instead try gently moving it from time to time to stop the area getting stiff.
  • Ice – put an ice pack or frozen vegetables, covered in a damp cloth, on the painful area for 20 minutes every 2-3 hours.
  • Compression – wrap a bandage around the area that’s painful. It should be tight enough to support it, but not so tight that it restricts the blood flow. If you’ve hurt your toe place a small piece of cotton wool between it and the next toe, then tape them together.
  • Elevate your foot to reduce swelling.
  • By gently massaging the painful area from time to time you can help reduce swelling and increase blood flow.

It is best to avoid hot baths, heat packs, ibuprofen, and alcohol in the first few days, as they can affect healing.

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