What Is the Cause of Swollen Ankles?

Reviewed on 10/22/2021

Common causes of swollen ankles include standing or sitting in the same position for a prolonged period, excess salt in the diet, overweight/obesity, pregnancy or pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, medication side effects, injuries, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, lymphedema, and others.
Common causes of swollen ankles include standing or sitting in the same position for a prolonged period, excess salt in the diet, overweight/obesity, pregnancy or pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, medication side effects, injuries, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, lymphedema, and others.

Swollen ankles are a symptom of many different conditions, some of which are minor and will go away on their own or with rest and home treatment, and others that require medical intervention. 

Common causes of swollen ankles include:

What Are Symptoms of Swollen Ankles?

Swollen ankles may be accompanied by: 

  • Swollen or puffy feet or legs
  • Shiny, stretched skin
  • Skin redness or other changes in skin color
  • Pain or tenderness

Call 911 or get to a hospital’s emergency department (do not drive yourself) if you have swollen ankles and: 

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain, tightness, or heaviness

These may be signs of a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), which is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. 

What Is the Treatment for Swollen Ankles?

Treatment for swollen ankles depends on the cause. 

Home remedies to reduce swelling in the ankles includes: 

  • Lie down and prop up the swollen ankles above the level of the heart
  • Gentle exercise, such as walking, to help improve blood flow
  • Wear wide, comfortable shoes with a low heel and soft sole
  • Don’t stand or sit for prolonged periods
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing, socks, or shoes 
  • Reduce salt consumption 
  • Lose weight if overweight or obese

Treatment for swollen ankles due to medication side effects includes:

  • Stopping or switching medications
  • Changing the dosage or regimen
  • Never stop taking a prescribed medication or change the dose or regimen without first talking to your doctor

Treatment for swollen ankles due to injury such as a sprain or strain includes:

  • RICE method
    • Rest: keep weight off the knee
    • Ice: to decrease pain, swelling, and redness
      • If an injury is iced immediately, it may prevent some inflammation
      • Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel
      • Apply crushed ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times daily
    • Compression: to support the knee and prevent inflammation
      • Use elastic wraps such as Ace bandages
      • Do not wrap too tightly
    • Elevation: propped up the affected leg to help reduce fluid buildup 
      • Try to raise the ankle above the level of the heart
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain
  • Range of motion exercises (depending on the type of injury)
  • Splints and braces
  • Surgery

Treatment for swollen ankles due to arthritis and other autoimmune conditions depends on the condition and may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroids
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Treatment for swollen ankles due to pregnancy or pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia includes:

  • The only treatment is delivery
  • If preeclampsia occurs before term, there is an attempt to delay delivery to 37 weeks 
  • Home remedies may help relieve some swelling and discomfort

Treatment for swollen ankles due to kidney, liver, or heart problems includes: 

  • Treating the underlying condition
  • Reducing the amount of salt (sodium) in the diet
  • Diuretics to eliminate excess fluid
  • Compression stockings

Treatment for swollen ankles due to blood clots includes:

  • Anticoagulants
  • Thrombolytic therapy, in severe cases
  • Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter 

Treatment for swollen ankles due to infection depends on the type of infection and may include:

  • Sores due to diabetic neuropathy and other nerve problems 
  • Ingrown toenail
    • Lifting the nail 
    • Partially removing the nail or removing the nail and tissue in more severe cases
  • Athlete’s foot
    • Antifungal cream/lotion/gel

Treatment for swollen ankles due to lymphedema includes:

  • Skin care
  • Weight management
  • Physiotherapy
  • Compression therapy (i.e., compression bandaging, compression garments)
  • Surgery, for severe cases

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Reviewed on 10/22/2021
References
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/oedema/

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