What Should I Do When My Foot or Ankle Pain Won’t Go Away?

Article featured on PennMedicine

Foot and ankle pain is a common source of frustration because it often involves small bones, ligaments, and/or tendons, all of which can heal at somewhat unpredictable rates. A little patience is in order. But what can you do when your patience starts to wear thin because your pain doesn’t feel like it’s gotten any better over time? This article will offer some guidance.

Managing Foot or Ankle Pain Caused by an Injury

Foot or ankle pain caused by an injury occurs suddenly and includes conditions such as sprains and fractures.

What should I do after a foot or ankle injury?

If your foot or ankle pain is the result of an injury, in the moments immediately following, treating it with the tried-and-true acronym RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Try to spend as little time on your feet over the next few days as work and life will allow.

Light compression and keeping your injured foot or ankle elevated above the level of your heart will help minimize swelling. She says a heating pad can make the injury feel better initially, but because it opens blood vessels in the injured area, it can ultimately make the inflammation worse. Ice, on the other hand, will constrict the blood vessels, reducing inflammation.

When should I see a doctor for my foot or ankle injury?

Many foot and ankle injuries may be treated at home, but there are some symptoms that require immediate medical attention. They include:

  • A significant deformity. Compare your injured ankle or foot to the other one. If there’s a clear difference in appearance, seek medical attention.
  • Any large open wounds or significant bleeding
  • You’re unable to put any weight on your injured foot or ankle

Otherwise, if the pain hasn’t lessened after about three to five days of treating your injury at home, it is best to  see your primary care physician. They may order x-rays and, depending on what they show, refer you to a specialist.

Managing Foot or Ankle Pain Caused by Overuse

Foot and ankle pain can also occur slowly over time as a result of overuse and include conditions such as Achilles tendinitis and stress fractures.

The hallmark of an overuse foot or ankle injury is an aching pain that comes on gradually. You may start to notice discomfort in the area of the injury during certain activities. Eventually, it will become more persistent. Achilles tendonitis, for example, may be agitated only during runs or long walks initially. Left unchecked, running will become impossible, and simple everyday activities, like making dinner, will feel like they’re straining the tendon.

What should I do at the first sign of foot or ankle pain caused by overuse?

Similar to the advice above for an injury, treat the initial pain with RICE and acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In some cases, overuse injuries will heal on their own with at-home treatment and time off from activities that put stress on the injured area.

Exactly how much time off will depend on the type and severity of the injury. In general, you can return to light activity that involves the injured area if you haven’t experienced pain there, without the use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen, for a week. If, after another week, you’re still pain-free, you can gradually ramp up your intensity. But be honest with your self-assessments. If you feel any discomfort, limit your activity and continue resting.

When should I see a doctor for my foot or ankle pain caused by overuse?

The vast majority of overuse foot or ankle injuries do not require immediate medical attention. The exception is those that escalate to the point of causing any of the symptoms listed above for an injury that would prompt urgent treatment.

Aside from these instances, the guidance is similar to that of a foot or ankle injury: If the pain hasn’t diminished or resolved after about three to five days of treating it at home, see your primary care physician. They will help address your concerns by performing a thorough examination, obtaining x-rays, and initiating a consultation/referral to an orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist.

Why should I consult an orthopaedic surgeon for my foot or ankle pain?

As mentioned earlier, feet and ankles can be finicky. For that very reason, consulting an orthopaedic surgeon should be your next step if your primary care physician refers you to a specialist. Orthopaedic surgeons undergo rigorous training.

While waiting for the x-rays, the Dr will ask about the patient’s medical conditions, past injuries, general lifestyle, and what sorts of physical activity they engage in on a regular basis. The responses, along with the x-rays and observations during a physical exam, will help develop a more complete understanding of the injury and inform treatment strategy.

Often, patients will want to know if they did anything that made their foot or ankle more susceptible to injury so that they won’t unknowingly cause another injury. They sometimes also ask if this is something that could get better on its own.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.