If your ankle hurts after running, don’t worry. Ankle pain is a common problem amongst professional and amateur runners alike. You might be tempted to endure the pain and finish that run to prove to yourself that you can do it.
We’re not saying this is a bad idea, but you need to understand the difference between ankle pain and general running fatigue.
Ankle pain could result from problems happening inside your body which are often aggravated by external causes. Running is a fairly high impact sport, different from sports like cycling for example.
We’re going to demonstrate why your ankle hurts after running, what signs to look for, and how to handle the situation to prevent it from getting worse.
Internal Causes of Ankle pain
There are five main causes if you ankle hurts after running, those are:
- Inflammation of the tendons
- Strains and sprains
- Stress fractures
- Weak Ankles
Another option to mention that can be an easier fix is simply not having the right shoes. Check out our guides on the best running shoes:
1. Inflammation of the Tendons Caused by Ankle Pain
Inflamed tendons are one of the most common reasons for long-lasting ankle pain. The problem is that they begin with a pain that is very similar to muscle pain.
Because of that, we need a more in-depth look at the two types of pain because muscle pain is normal and you shouldn’t worry about it. If your ankle hurts after running, you need to evaluate carefully what it could be.
Difference Between Muscle and Tendon Pain
There are three types of muscles in the human body, cardiac, smooth, and skeletal muscles. The skeletal muscles are the ones we can control to move, walk, run, and so on.
These muscles tend to get tired a lot faster than cardiac and smooth muscles. Working out, running, or any physical exercise will cause your muscles to get tired.
This fatigue is often noticed as pain after physical exercise and it’s remarkably more noticeable if you haven’t exercised for a long time.
However, this muscle pain usually affects only the muscles you worked out. For example, if you carry a heavy load, you may experience some pain in your arms, shoulders, and back.
On the other hand, when you run, the pain is mostly in the leg muscles. This is when it becomes difficult to know if the pain is muscle-related or tendon-related.
The muscle-related pain usually starts to subside within a few days until it disappears completely. If you target that specific muscle again with an exercise in short intervals, the post-exercise pain is usually less and less.
Generally, you shouldn’t worry at all about the muscle-related pain in your legs. It’s the tendon pain that usually causes ankle pain.
Tendon Pain: Reasons Ankle Hurts After Running
Tendon-related pain, though, is a lot different. Initially, it feels hard to tell if the tendon is the problem. However, when the pain lingers for weeks after you’ve run, then you’ve mostly hurt one of the ankle tendons.
The tendons that usually cause ankle pain after you run are the Achilles tendon, Tibialis anterior tendon, Posterior tibial tendon, and Peroneal tendons.
Understanding the location of each of these tendons could help you pinpoint the pain somewhat.
Pain Is in the Back of the Foot and Above the Heel
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in your foot and the most bothersome when it’s inflamed. This tendon connects the calf muscle to the back of your heel bone and it often endures the most stress while running.
If you experience pain in the lower back part of your heel, the Achilles tendon might be the reason.
Pain Is in Font of the Shin Bone (Tibia)
The lingering pain in your shin bones is often related to the Tibialis anterior tendons.
They run along the shin bone and absorb a lot of stress while you run. Especially if you run uphill quite often.
Pain Is Alongside the Insides of Your Ankle
The calf muscles are attached to the bones on the inside of the foot by the Posterior tibial tendons.
If you feel pain in the insides of your foot, those tendons may be the ones to blame.
Pain Is in Your Outer Ankle
Having pain in your outer ankle usually results from inflammation of the peroneal tendons. Each ankle has a pair of peroneal tendons which run behind the outer ankle bone.
Repeated stresses in the outer ankle area could lead to a minor inflammation in the peroneal tendons which could get worse if not handled early.
Tendon Ankle Pain Symptoms
Now that we have some idea about the lingering pain causes and locations in the ankle, it’s time to understand the signs and symptoms.
These signs and symptoms are often more apparent in tendon pain than muscle pain.
- Unstable or abnormal range of motion. You may notice that your ankle tends to bend abnormally as you flex it
- Sharp pain on trying to do a specific ankle move. This pain is usually coming from trying to move the affected tendon
- Dull aching pain when you’re not moving the ankle at all
- Swelling and tenderness that could be burning or painful to touch
- You may experience a pinching or a stabbing sensation on the affected tendon
These guides are meant to help you understand that there’s a problem you should fix. They shouldn’t replace the inspection and advice of qualified medical personnel.
2. If Your Ankle Hurts After Running It Could Be Strains and Sprains
Strains and sprains are two faces of the same coin.
A strain is when a muscle is overly stretched or torn while a sprain is when a tendon is overly stretched or torn.
Most injuries happen because of fatigue or over-using a muscle or a tendon over long periods. However, sprains and strains usually happen because of a suddenly increased force on muscles and/or tendons that result in injury.
Fortunately, as common as they are, they’re easier to handle than other ankle pain causes. All you need is a few days of rest without exerting too much pressure on the injured muscle or tendon.
3. Stress Fractures
Stress fractures or “microfractures” are small cracks along the shafts of bones that usually aren’t a problem on their own.
These stress fractures could happen in any bone because of the most random of reasons. For example, you could hit your hand on a door and get a microfracture in your arm bones.
These microfractures often cause little to no pain and you can easily endure them while exercising or running. Additionally, they’re not a big threat to the body because of specialized cells known as osteoblasts.
Osteoblasts are special cells in our bodies that remodel and repair our bones whenever they are damaged. Since we’re subjected to microfractures every day, these cells are often at work to keep those fractures at bay.
However, when the stress on a specific bone is faster than the osteoblasts can handle, microfractures begin to cause more and more pain with time. In extreme cases, these micro-cracks could result in a full fracture that needs months of fixation.
Adding too many miles to your run, using the wrong shoes, or not taking any days off are all reasons that contribute to stress fractures in your leg bones.
4. Weak Ankles
When someone decides to work out and build their muscles in the gym, they may realize with time that some of their muscles (and tendons) are innately weaker than others.
Weaker muscles and tendons are more subjected to sprains and strains than muscles of normal strength.
Because of that, these muscles or tendons usually require a more careful approach during exercise. You should gradually increase the severity of your exercise on such weak muscles to prevent injury.
If you refrain from doing that, your tendons might try to reduce the stress by changing your range of motion as you run. When you run, the ankle should extend forward and backward to absorb the shock and push you forward.
When the tendons are weak, they may force a slight deviation in your ankle movement to reduce some stress over the affected tendon.
What does that do? It adds more pressure on a different tendon. So your feet are essentially transferring the pain from one side to the other.
If someone has commented or you have noticed an abnormal movement of your feet when you run, you should consult a physician to see if you may have weak tendons.
Arthritis is often viewed as a disease of old age. That’s not wrong, arthritis is the loss of cushingoid cartilages between the ends of bones and it happens slowly as we age.
However, old age is but one of many causes of arthritis. Unfortunately, it can strike at any age in three different forms:
Osteoarthritis is the most common type and it’s the one more likely to cause ankle pain.
There’s no direct cause to it but excessive stress, diseases, obesity, and genetics are all contributing factors.
Rheumatoid arthritis happens when your immune cells attack your cartilages. Fortunately, it’s not as common as osteoarthritis and will mostly be associated with other immune-related issues.
In short, If it’s there, you won’t discover it by accident when you start running.
Post-traumatic arthritis is another form of arthritis that you should be aware of as a runner. Post-traumatic arthritis can happen after you injure a part of your leg.
Falling, twisting your ankles, and hitting hard objects with your feet are all possible causes of post-traumatic arthritis.
Ankle Hurts After Running From External Causes
Now that you know what happens inside your body to cause ankle pain, you should know some of the external or provoking reasons that could have started those internal problems.
1. Using the Wrong Shoes
Not every pair of shoes is suitable for running. If your shoe is too tight, it will reduce the amount of blood reaching your feet and may cause injury.
Additionally, shoes without supportive padding could transfer too many stresses from the ground to your feet and cause ankle pain.
It’s worth investing in cushioned running shoes for the safety of your ankle.
2. Switching Abruptly From the Treadmill to the Street
Running on the treadmill is a great way to practice indoors but it takes off a lot of stress from your calves and ankles.
If you’re used to running 5 miles on your treadmill and decided to switch to track running, then you should begin by running shorter distances than what you’re accustomed to.
3. Going Uphill Too Much
Running uphill is a good way to improve strength and endurance but it can take a large toll on your ankles, especially your Achilles tendons.
It’s easy to spot the uphill running-related ankle pain because you should only experience it when you start increasing your uphill running sessions.
Take it easy on yourself and don’t apply too much stress on your tendons with excessive uphill running.
4. Increasing Your Running Distance Suddenly
We all get tempted to take our running sessions to the next level. However, our human bodies aren’t designed to handle larger chunks of stress without gradually transitioning into them.
Don’t increase your training’s severity all of a sudden. Your ankles won’t like it and they will let you know. If you’re ankle hurts after running, do a sanity check on your distances and make sure you aren’t pushing it too hard.
5. Pushing Too Hard With Ankle Weights?
When you first start running with ankle weights, it’s best to start off slowly. If you push too hard you can develop some minor pain in your ankles and feet. Ankle weights can be a benefit, but you need to take some care in deploying them in your training.
How to Handle Ankle Pain?
You did your best to avoid it but it happened nevertheless. Ankle pain is here. What should you do?
Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The four golden rules that every athlete should know. Rest your legs and apply ice packs for 15 minutes twice a day with some compression.
Once you’re done, elevate your legs above your heart level to improve the blood flow. Don’t tuck your legs over your body, just a slight elevation is all that’s needed.
Physical therapy always works wonders in rehabilitating the body back in shape. There are hundreds of physical therapy exercises out there.
To avoid using the wrong ones or using the right one too many times, consult a doctor and he should give you the right exercises.
Supporting braces or wraps will reduce any undesired motions as you move. Again, consult a doctor to get the appropriate size and type that won’t increase the problem instead of fixing it.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a few extra weapons in your arsenal against ankle pain. Many of these drugs are over-the-counter and can be purchased without a prescription. Consulting a doctor never harms, though, and it’s always recommended.
Know Your Pain
For athletes, pain is inevitable. Achieving physical fitness is a feat that not everyone can achieve because of the hardships associated with it.
Ankle pain for runners is no joke. Fixing ankle pain issues before they get bigger could save you months of treatments and a lot of money.
It’s always good to push yourself to improve but you should also know the limits of your body. After all, it’s all about running safely and staying healthy.