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Causes of Chronic Ankle & Foot Pain

author image Martin Hughes
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.
Causes of Chronic Ankle & Foot Pain
Numerous conditions can cause chronic foot and ankle pain.

Numerous conditions can cause chronic foot and ankle pain. According to, foot and ankle pain can signal a serious medical condition, especially if the pain is caused by a traumatic injury or a chronic condition. Chronic foot and ankle pain can also be caused by structural abnormalities or defects in the foot. Some types of foot pain, if left untreated, can progress, causing joint and tissue damage and disability.

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Inappropriate Footwear

Inappropriate footwear can cause chronic foot and ankle pain. According to Dr. Ray McClanahan, a Portland, Oregon-based sports podiatrist and a leader in conservative foot care, most foot problems, including ankle problems, are caused by inappropriate footwear. McClanahan states that most shoes are not wide enough in the toe box, and that shoes with certain design features--heel elevation, tapered toe boxes and toe-spring--cause deformity within the feet and ankles. Most conventional footwear is not shaped like a human foot-- which means the footwear is widest at the ball of the foot, not at the ends of the toes, as it should be, to accommodate natural toe splay--and do not allow the foot to function appropriately. In fact, according to McClanahan, most conventional footwear, including running shoes, not only causes foot deformities, it also prevents the foot from developing the strength and flexibility required for long-term foot and ankle health.


Osteoarthritis can cause long-term foot and ankle pain. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases or NIAMS states that osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, is the most common cause of arthritis or joint pain. Osteoarthritis is particularly common in older individuals. Osteoarthritis primarily affects cartilage, which is a hard and slippery tissue that coats the ends of bones within a joint. Over time, as joint cartilage wears away, the joint itself may change shape and bone spurs or osteophytes may form. In some cases, small chunks of bone or cartilage can break off and float within the affected joint, causing pain and joint damage. According to the NIAMS, osteoarthritis can affect any joint. Common signs and symptoms associated with osteoarthritis include joint pain during or after movement, joint stiffness and tenderness and reduced joint range of motion.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome can cause chronic foot and ankle pain. According to the Foot Health Facts website, tarsal tunnel syndrome occurs when the posterior tibial nerve--the nerve that runs along the inside of the ankle into the foot--becomes compressed or squeezed as it passes through the tarsal tunnel. The tarsal tunnel is a narrow passageway below the medial malleolus or the bony bump on the inside of the ankle through which several structures pass. The tunnel is covered by a ligament called the flexor retinaculum that protects the structures within the tunnel from damage. Sometimes, however, structures within the tunnel can be compressed. Possible causes of tarsal tunnel syndrome include structural abnormalities in the ankle, bone spurs, ankle injury and certain medical conditions, such as diabetes. Common signs and symptoms associated with tarsal tunnel syndrome include pain, numbness, tingling and burning in the ankle and foot on the affected side.

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