Dr. thomas mcdonald patient after foot and ankle surgery

What’s Causing My Ankle Pain When Climbing Stairs?

Have you found that it’s become a little more uncomfortable to climb up stairs of late? Is there pain or discomfort in the front of your ankle when you try to flex your foot upwards? If so, you may be dealing with a condition known as anterior ankle impingement. The condition can make certain movements uncomfortable, but you can take solace in knowing that the problem tends to respond very well to some simple proactive treatments. Below, we explore why ankle impingement tends to develop, and how Dr. McDonald and his team can help you overcome the condition.

Anterior Ankle Impingement Causes And Symptoms

Anterior ankle impingement occurs when bone, soft tissue or scar tissue at the front of the ankle becomes compressed or irritated. This area is where the lower part of the leg (tibia) connects with the upper part of the foot (talus) to form the ankle joint. However, if bone or tissue gets caught between this area, it can become pinched, damaged or compressed. Many people find that symptoms tend to worsen when they flex their foot upwards, as this decreases the space between the tibia and the talus.

Anterior ankle impingement tends to develop as a result of a new or old injury to the ankle area. When tissues are damaged, the body works hard to address the damaged tissue or bone. Sometimes this leads to the formation of inflamed tissue, larger scar tissue or bony overgrowths called osteophytes. In many instances, these very subtle growths in tissue or bone cause no issue in the body, but in an area where there is already limited space for tissues and bone to exist in harmony, an enlargement of tissue or bone can end up leading to discomfort when this space narrows during normal ankle movements. The condition is quite common after an injury to the ankle complex, but it’s also more likely to occur in athletes that flex their feet regularly during competition, like dancers, runners and soccer players.

Symptoms will vary based on the degree of impingement, but most patients with anterior ankle impingement will deal with symptoms like:

  • Pain when climbing stairs
  • Pain when lifting the front of the foot upwards
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Decreased ankle range of motion
  • Difficulty walking or standing for extended periods

Diagnosing And Treating Anterior Ankle Impingement

Even if your symptoms are only mild, it pays to connect with a foot and ankle specialist like Dr. McDonald or your primary care provider if you suspect that you are dealing with ankle impingement syndrome. For starters, the condition rarely gets better on its own without proactive treatment, and there’s a good chance symptoms will get worse if you keep pushing through the discomfort. Moreover, treatment tends to be very successful, so don’t put off care any longer!

Dr. McDonald can diagnose ankle impingement syndrome during a clinical evaluation, typically without the need for imaging tests. He’ll review your medical information, ask you about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam where he may ask you to manipulate your foot in different ways. Oftentimes he can determine what’s going on in your foot based on these movement screens, but imaging tests can also help to rule out a more significant injury like a fracture.

Assuming you are dealing with ankle impingement syndrome, Dr. McDonald will set you up with an individualized treatment program that will begin with some conservative efforts. The vast majority of patients make a significant or complete recovery in just a few weeks by making a couple adjustments to their daily life. Some of the most common treatments for anterior ankle impingement syndrome include rest and the avoidance of certain activities, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, ice, heat, elevation and some simple physical therapy exercises to restore normal motion within your ankle joint. Coupled with a gradual return to more physical activities, and most patients will notice incredible improvement in symptoms in a very short period of time.

In rare instances where these conservative efforts fail to provide relief, your doctor may recommend a minimally invasive debridement procedure to clear out excessive scar tissue or bony overgrowths to create more room within the ankle complex. This surgery has a very high rate of success, but we find that the vast majority of patients make enough progress through non-operative treatment that a surgical procedure for ankle impingement is rarely necessary.

So if you want to put an end to your ankle discomfort and get back to climbing stairs or playing sports without ankle pain, connect with Dr. McDonald and his team today to take the first step in overcoming your anterior ankle impingement. Give our team a call today at (860) 244-8889.

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