When Should I Go To the Doctor for Foot and Ankle Pain

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If you have foot and ankle pain, you may be wondering when you should go to the doctor for foot and ankle pain. Let’s first understand what it means to have ankle and foot pain, what causes it, and why it may or may not be as bad as you might think!

Ankle sprains and foot aches are nothing new for athletes. Ankle and foot injuries are common in sports, but ankle pain isn’t something confined to sportspeople. You might wake up with pain in your feet after a long day of hiking or sometimes you may feel ankle and foot pain for no reason at all.  

Foot And Ankle Pain Overview

Foot and Ankle Pain Overview

As a brief recap of biology, the nerves in our body act the controller of body parts and signalers of feedback to the brain. The nerves in an injured part of the body will send the pain signals to the brain as a “Heads up!” response. This response is a self-preservation trait for living beings. It discourages us from putting ourselves in harm’s way. Furthermore, it also tells us when we need to pay special attention to some parts of the body when injured.  

Foot and ankle pain are a common occurrence in middle-aged and above people. According to a study conducted by Thomas MJ Et al. in 2011, 24% of people above 45 years of age reported frequent foot pain, and 15% reported recurring ankle pain.

Furthermore, the study indicated that ageing increases the chance of foot and ankle pain in women more than in men. The most common foot problems among the affected people come from the forefoot and toes. A third of affected individuals reported moderate disability in their daily activities due to the pain.  

The ankle connects the foot to the body, it helps stabilize and balance the body when walking. The muscles controlling the foot originate above the ankle and become tendons and ligaments after crossing the ankle. There is also a muscle at the centre of your foot that helps you clench your toes as well.

The ankle and foot are a single unit from a medical diagnosis perspective. Therefore, the location of pain in the foot or ankle does not matter much for self-diagnosis purposes.  

Pain In Front of Ankle And Top of Foot 


Pain in the ankle or foot, in most cases, is because of strained tendons, muscles, or sprained ligaments. The affected area differs depending on the situation. Nevertheless, a simple self-diagnosis can be useful to differentiate whether the pain in the ankle or foot region is consistent even at rest or does it flare up during movement and touch. Thereby, it helps you gauge the severity of your condition and whether you require professional help or not.

Pain On Top of the Foot When Walking


Pain during movement can be due to muscle strain, bone fractures, or other external injuries. Such pain flares up when weight is put upon the foot or ankle. Pain while walking may or may not be a cause for concern. Often, the use of ill-suited footwear can cause foot and ankle injuries due to bad body balance.

How Do I know If My Foot and Ankle Pain Is Serious?

How Do I know If My Foot and Ankle Pain Is Serious

Pain is a natural response of the body and shouldn’t be feared too much. Soreness from the gym also causes pain but this won’t be a cause for concern. Naturally, there are ways to know when to take the pain seriously.  

The Pain You Do Have To Worry About


You should see a physio if the pain negatively impacts your daily life. Pain tolerance is different for everyone. However, there are tell-tale signs when the pain is problematic. As a rule, pain that prevents you from falling asleep despite being tired is considered a red flag. 

One of the most important things to look out for is inflammation in the foot or ankle. There are five signs of inflammation.

  • Swelling
  • Redness  
  • Warmth
  • Pain  
  • Restriction of movement 

With inflammation, the foot or ankle feels heavy and appears swollen. The swollen site may have a reddish colouration and feels slightly warm to the touch. Additionally, the swollen area hurts, especially when touching or putting weight on it.

This can restrict your movement because of the pain. If there is inflammation in your foot or ankle, you should immediately get it checked out by a doctor. Inflammation in any body part is generally a red flag requiring medical attention. However, it should be noted that inflammation is a part of the body’s natural healing process.

In some cases, the pain flares up because of bone injuries. Such pain may be due to fractures or bone damage. Arthritis and gout are one of the leading causes of old age joint pain.

More extreme cases include cancers and neuropathy (damaged connection of nerves to the brain). Such cases are rare and should not be self-diagnosed. As a rule, any acute pain that lasts more than 48 hours without a sign of improvement should prompt a visit to the doctor.

The Pain You Don’t Have To Worry About


In most cases, the pain in your ankle joint or foot results from straining. Our muscles, ligaments, and tendons are flexible. All movement in our body is conducted by them, either stretching or contracting.

Sometimes, certain activities or motions can push our muscles beyond their safe range and direction of stretching or contracting. Stretching too much causes the fibres in the muscles to break, resulting in a strain. A strained muscle hurts more when engaged in a movement again.  

Physical activities, especially ones involved in explosive or prolonged exertion, cause sprains and strains in the body. Pain because of muscle strain is manageable and will subside or reduce within a few days. An easy way to tell is to determine whether or not the pain restricts or significantly affects your physical activities. These activities include standing, walking, and going about your daily routine. If the pain does not impede your daily activities, there is no need for an immediate consultation.

What Kind Of Doctor Should I See For Foot And Ankle Pain?

What Kind Of Doctor Should I See For Foot And Ankle Pain

Orthopaedic surgeons are experts in human musculoskeletal (muscles and bones) systems, but general practitioners or surgeons are capable of handling most cases. Therefore, if an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon is too expensive or unavailable, they can rely upon it as an alternative.

Depending on how bad the situation is, you might want to head to the emergency department at a hospital instead. Having said that, ankle and foot pain is usually not a medical emergency. You can take your time to set up an appointment as long as the pain is bearable.


How long will my ankle and foot pain take to recover?

Ankle and foot pain because of straining will usually recover within a week or two, whereas lower body bone fractures take 6 weeks to recover. Pain because of more complicated medical ailments can last for a few days to a few months based on the severity of the case. In some cases, the pain might become recurrent.

What are home remedies for ankle and foot pain?

Simple home remedies include:

  • Applying ice packs to the area in pain
  • Elevating the foot using a pillow
  • Bed rest
  • Over-the-counter painkillers and local application painkillers such as gels
  • Use bandages or anklets to secure the ankle and foot

As a precaution, you should avoid putting weight on the foot if it hurts. Additionally, do not wrap the bandage around the foot too tightly.

Should I go to a doctor for ankle pain?

Ankle pain can sometimes be an indication of some underlying medical problem. However, that is not the case for most people. A consultation is always a good idea to be on the safe side. If you are unsure if your condition is problematic enough, a few warning signs to look out for are:

  • If you are unable to sleep due to the pain
  • If the pain persists for over 48 hours with no improvement
  • If there are any signs of inflammation on the ankle or foot
  • If the pain prevents you from going about your daily life

In cases other than these, the pain is nothing serious and will go away on its own.

What does it mean if my ankle and foot are aching?

If the ankle or foot is aching, it is most likely due to strained muscles, tendons, or sprained ligaments. Aches are a side effect of the body’s repair process, and they are not something to be worried about. Nonetheless, if there are no signs of improvement over a few days, you should consider visiting a doctor.

Is there anything to be concerned about post-recovery?

Most cases of ankle and foot pain do not cause long-term problems. However, ankle or foot pain can be a side effect of illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, gout, and ageing. Pain due to nervous system disorders or cancers may cause long-term problems. Ask your consultant about them as such cases are extremely rare, and the situation varies from case to case.



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