Ankle & Foot Pain After Exercise

Female runner with twisted ankle
A man helping a woman out running with an injured foot. (Image: pojoslaw/iStock/Getty Images)

Your foot and ankle are comprised of many small bones that work together during exercise to help you run, shift your weight and jump. Because exercise places extra pressure on foot and ankle joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons, the feet are subject to injury, swelling and pain. While some extra pain or discomfort can be common after an exercise session, experiencing severe pain or swelling can indicate a more serious injury or need to change the way you exercise to prevent future injuries.

Causes

In some instances, foot and ankle pain can be attributed to wearing unsupportive shoes or failing to stretch the muscles properly before exercising. Making these small changes can help relieve pain. Foot pain also can be related to a loss of natural foot padding that occurs with age or even osteoarthritis of the foot and ankle joints. Increasing your exercise duration or intensity by too much may mean your feet and ankles were not prepared to accommodate for the extra intensity. Sudden twisting movements also cause an ankle sprain, a common athletic injury.

Shoes to Wear

Your athletic shoes help to protect you against foot pain and injury by supporting and cushioning the foot. The right shoes for you depend upon what activity you are performing. For example, if you are an athlete who engages in twisting and back-and-forth movements such as those in basketball, football or volleyball, high-top or three-quarter length top shoes are best to protect the ankles from twisting. For other exercise types, focus on comfort and function for activities you commonly perform. If you commonly practice step aerobics, a trail-running shoe that is made to increase traction in dirt would be too heavy and grooved on the bottom for stepping. Also, replace your shoes every 300 to 500 miles. If your shoes start showing too much wear on the bottom or the backs start to break down, it’s time to buy new athletic shoes.

Treatment

While treatment may vary based on the specific ankle and/or foot pain you are experiencing, there are a few techniques you can use to lessen pain. The first is using sports massage techniques to rub the foot and relieve tired and sore muscles after exercise. Icing the foot and elevating it after exercise can help to reduce inflammation that leads to pain. Wearing an ankle brace even after exercising can help stabilize the ankle joint and reduce instability. If the foot continues to hurt for more than a few hours, refrain from exercising at least one additional day or switch to a low-impact exercise like swimming to reduce pressure placed on the foot and ankle.

Warning

Some foot and ankle symptoms indicate the need for immediate medical treatment. If the foot does not respond to your self-care techniques after one to two weeks, seek medical evaluation. Symptoms indicating the need for medical treatment include inability to bear weight on your foot, bleeding, deformity or an open sore accompanied by fever. Your physician can evaluate your foot and recommend treatment options, which may include surgery in severe instances.

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