5 causes of lateral ankle pain (and what to do about it)

lateral ankle pain

When you have ankle pain, even standing or walking around your house can make you wince in discomfort. Although you may assume that pain in your ankle is all coming from the joint, there are different types of soft tissue surrounding the joint that can be damaged as well, such as the lateral ankle.

Our ankles have to carry several times our body weight as we move, so it’s important to be proactive when it’s in pain. When you’re experiencing lateral ankle pain, the first step is figuring out the cause so that you can determine the most effective treatment options.

We’ll talk about what it means to feel lateral ankle pain, potential causes for the pain and what you can do to reduce the ache.

What is lateral ankle pain?

Your lateral ankle refers to the outside of your ankle. It’s composed of several ligaments as well as the lateral malleolus, which is the protruding bone at the end of the fibula. The lateral ankle region plays a vital role in keeping your foot and ankle stable as you move.

Lateral ankle pain is often associated with other symptoms that can make it difficult to carry out your daily activities, such as:

  • Tenderness.
  • Stiffness.
  • Instability.

Since the lateral ankle ligaments are meant to provide stability to both your foot and ankle, ankle pain is often coupled with ankle instability, which affects your gait and increases your risk of falling. Up to 79% of participants in a study had chronic ankle instability alongside ankle pain.

5 possible reasons why you’re feeling lateral ankle pain

Now that we’ve discussed the basics of lateral ankle pain, let’s talk about possible causes. When you’re feeling lateral ankle pain, it likely means that the soft tissue, bones or joints in the area have been damaged due to a medical condition or an injury. 

Here are five potential reasons why you may be experiencing ankle pain in the lateral region:


  • Sprain — Since your lateral ankle is made up of several ligaments, a common injury that causes ankle pain is a ligament sprain. If you roll your ankle or suddenly change directions, you can sprain or tear the ligament, causing pain along with joint stiffness and swelling.

  • Tendon injury — There are two peroneal tendons that start behind the lateral malleolus and run along each side of your foot. Lateral ankle pain can come from injuring the tendon that runs along the outside of the foot. A peroneal tendon injury can be caused by gradual wear and tear over time, as well as trauma or wearing unsupportive footwear.

  • Arthritis — The most common form of arthritis that affects the ankle joint is osteoarthritis, which causes the joint cartilage to break down gradually over time. Arthritis in your ankle can result in ankle pain as well as reduced range of motion.

  • Stress fracture — You can sustain a hairline fracture or severe bruising in an ankle bone, causing ankle pain. A stress fracture is often the result of repetitive stress on the ankle joint and can form slowly.

  • Scar tissue — Many people experience lateral ankle pain after they’ve healed from a sudden ankle injury due to the formation of scar tissue. Scar tissue formation can cause pain and stiffness, especially if it presses against a tendon.

What to do about lateral ankle pain

Ankle pain can affect your overall quality of life by making it painful to complete your everyday movements, such as walking up stairs or standing up from a chair. That’s why it’s important to explore your treatment options to reduce the pain and get back on your feet. 

A physical therapist can walk you through effective treatment options to alleviate your ankle pain as well as increase the overall quality of the joint and surrounding soft tissue. They can also assess your symptoms and help you pinpoint the likely cause of your ankle pain.

Pain in any area of the ankle can typically benefit from targeted exercises. A physical therapist can show you safe stretches that will increase the area’s range of motion while reducing ankle pain. There are also exercises that will strengthen the surrounding muscles to improve stability and support.

Manual therapy can be effective for many causes of ankle pain. Manual therapy techniques, such as soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization, involve the physical therapist using their hands to gently move around the soft tissue and joints to improve mobility while breaking up painful scar tissue.

Find treatment for lateral ankle pain at Advent Physical Therapy

Not only can a therapist at Advent Physical Therapy help you determine the cause of your lateral ankle pain, they can also pick the techniques that will be the most effective based on the severity and cause. With treatments like manual therapy and targeted exercises, you can alleviate your ankle pain and get back to your regular activities.

Call us or request an appointment today to get treatment for your ankle pain.