What Causes Stabbing Pain in the Ankle?

There are many potential causes of stabbing ankle pain. Injuries, degenerative conditions, autoimmune conditions, and even wearing shoes that are too tight can cause sharp, severe ankle pain. In some cases, ankle pain can be relieved through RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) — or new shoes! For others, surgery or regenerative ankle treatment may be necessary. Let’s explore several causes of ankle pain and swelling, then learn when to seek professional help.

Common Culprits for Sudden Sharp Ankle Pain

Sprains and Strains: The Usual Suspects

Ankle sprains and strains are the most common cause of ankle pain. They occur when you twist, turn, or roll your ankle too far. A sprained ankle overstretches or tears the ligaments that connect the bones and stabilize the joint. A strain is when the muscles or tendons of the ankle are stretched or torn.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

Both ankle sprains and strains cause severe pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. A severe sprain may also involve bruising, while a strain may cause muscle spasms. A doctor can accurately diagnose whether your injury is an ankle sprain or a strain.

Seeking Treatment and Preventing Recurrence

The best response to a moderate ankle sprain or strain is promptly implementing RICE treatment at home. However, if the pain or swelling is severe, making it too painful to walk or bear weight, if the joint is visibly deformed, or if a couple of days of rest and therapy do not significantly reduce the pain and swelling, seek medical attention.

An ankle sprain or strain injures the support structure of your ankle, leaving it vulnerable to re-injury. The following will help you prevent another strain or sprain:

  • Strengthening exercises
  • Flexibility training
  • Proper footwear
  • Ankle brace

Fractures: More Serious Than a Twist

A car accident, sports injury, or the same trauma that causes a sprained or strained ankle can also fracture one or more of the three ankle bones. A fractured ankle requires more intensive intervention and greater recovery time than a sprain or strain. An improperly healed fracture also has an increased chance of long-term complications.

Differentiating From Sprains and Seeking Immediate Help

If you have injured your ankle and suspect it is fractured, you should seek immediate medical attention. Signs that indicate your ankle is fractured instead of sprained or strained include:

  • You heard a crack at the time of the injury.
  • The injured joint is misshapen.
  • You feel some numbness in addition to the pain.
  • The pain increases substantially over time.

Your doctor should order an x-ray to confirm your injury is a fracture rather than a sprain or strain.

The Healing Process and Rehabilitation

A simple ankle fracture may just require immobilization while the bones knit. However, more complicated or complex fractures may require surgery. A simple fracture can heal within six to eight weeks, while a complex break takes longer. Once the bones have knitted, strengthening exercises, flexibility training, and an ankle brace will help complete your recovery.

Underlying Conditions Causing Stabbing Ankle Pain

In addition to breaks, sprains, and strains, several underlying conditions can cause ankle pain and swelling.

Inflammatory Issues: Turning Up the Heat

Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and gout can increase pain in any joint and cause stabbing ankle pain to occur suddenly.

Arthritis (Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes painful swelling of one or more joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that breaks down the cartilage that cushions the bones within your joints. Both conditions can cause ankle pain and swelling of the joint. RA typically causes throbbing, aching pain, while OA is more often a dull ache. However, both can be the cause of stabbing ankle pain.

Gout Attacks and Bursitis Flare-Ups

Gout and bursitis of the ankle cause severe pain, swelling, and lost range of motion in the joint. Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that involves a buildup of crystalized uric acid in a joint, often starting in the big toe. Bursitis is the painful swelling of small, fluid-filled sacs called bursae. These bursae cushion the muscles, tendons, and bones of your joints.

Gout primarily affects the extremities and is related to dietary factors, alcohol consumption, and genetics. Bursitis is most common in larger joints and is generally triggered by repetitive movements or pressure. Both conditions can cause severe ankle pain.

Managing Inflammation and Reducing Pain

While rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, and bursitis have different causes, some common approaches to alleviating inflammation and pain exist. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce inflammation and relieve pain for these conditions. Resting and elevating the ankle (or affected joint) also provides relief for each.

More specific pain relief and anti-inflammatory treatment for each condition include:

Artritis reumatoide

Physical therapy and alternately applying heat and cold can improve circulation, reduce swelling, and alleviate pain.


Intra-articular corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, and alternating heat and cold can temporarily relieve joint pain and inflammation.


Management typically involves specific medications, rest, and icing the affected joint. Weight management and diet changes are also highly recommended.


Rest, ice, and corticosteroid injections are the most frequent treatments for bursitis. In some severe cases, surgical intervention may be required to drain the bursae.

From Inflammation to Degeneration: Tendonitis and Tendinosis

Tendinitis is an inflammatory tendon condition caused by overuse or repetitive strain. Tendinosis describes the degeneration of the tendon’s collagen, which leaves the tendon weaker and lacking elasticity, leaving it vulnerable to tearing. While both conditions typically cause chronic pain, each can occasionally cause stabbing ankle pain.

Nerve Involvement: Sending Shockwaves

Sometimes, a pinched nerve or a nerve disorder is the cause of ankle pain.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome and Pinched Nerves

Tarsal tunnel syndrome, a compression of the posterior tibial nerve, can cause sharp, shooting pain in the ankle. It is essentially a pinched nerve resulting from a prior ankle injury. The buildup of scar tissue or cysts may grow to compress the nerve. Sometimes, overuse of the ankle before an injury fully heals leads to tarsal tunnel syndrome.

Diabetic Neuropathy and Other Nerve Conditions

Diabetes can cause nerve damage, or neuropathy, particularly through the legs and feet. High glucose levels damage the tiny blood vessels that supply the nerves throughout the body.

Another nerve condition that can cause stabbing ankle pain is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Believed to be a dysfunction of the central and peripheral nervous system, CRPS causes severe, persistent pain that is disproportionate to the injury. It typically develops after an injury, surgery, stroke, or heart attack.

Seeking Diagnosis and Finding Relief

Pain related to a nerve condition often includes numbness or a tingling sensation. If you suspect you have a nerve condition, consult your primary health provider, who may perform diagnostic tests or refer you to a specialist.

Until your doctor recommends a course of action, anti-inflammatory drugs or over-the-counter pain relievers can help. Strengthening exercises and stretching are also beneficial. If the pain is intense, ask your doctor about corticosteroid injections.

When To Seek Professional Help

As we have discussed, there are steps you can take to address and relieve ankle pain on your own, particularly when you know the cause. But there are several clear signs that it is time to seek medical attention:

  • The pain is both severe and persistent despite your efforts with RICE.
  • The swelling seems extreme and does not diminish with ice and elevation.
  • You cannot put any weight on the foot.
  • You experience symptoms related to infection (like running a fever or your ankle is red and hot).

Ignoring the Red Flags: What Not To Do

Ankle pain is not a test of your character or toughness; it is your body’s way of alerting you to a structural problem and encouraging rest. Do not attempt to override your body and just “tough out the pain.” That is an excellent recipe for doing significant damage.

Instead, promptly use RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). If you notice significant improvement over a few days, your self-treatment is a success and likely all you need. However, if the symptoms worsen or you note any of the red flags described in this article, seek prompt medical attention.

Taking Control of Your Ankle Health

Don’t look at ankle pain as an inconvenience. Instead, consider it a signal to be more proactive about your health. While a conventional doctor should set a broken bone, many other causes of pain in the ankle can be successfully treated with regenerative medicine. QC Kinetix offers non-surgical, drug-free regenerative therapies that leverage your body’s innate healing abilities to relieve pain, boost joint function, and improve range of motion. 

To learn more, visit our blog de medicina regenerativa or check out our QC Kinetix patient reviews. Nuestra Preguntas frecuentes sobre medicina regenerativa provide good general information. However, the best way to learn what regenerative therapies can do for your specific issue is to schedule a free consultation, where we will review your medical records and perform a thorough evaluation so we can best advise you on your options.

Contact QC Kinetix today to find out how we can help you experience genuine pain relief.

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