10 causes of pain on top of the foot near the ankle

Your ankles are the amazing hinge joints that connect your legs to your feet. They allow you to walk, run, jump and navigate all kinds of terrain. Sometimes, your ankles can experience pain. If you’re feeling discomfort on the top of your foot near your ankle, you’re not alone. Foot pain is common and affects approximately 30% of people at any time. There are a variety of culprits that can be behind why this may be happening. The good news is that there are a wide range of PT treatments that can help you find relief. 

What causes pain on top of the foot near the ankle?

Some top causes that may be behind your pain include:

  • Extensor tendinitis — The extensor tendons are kind of like tiny little rubber bands that run along the top of your foot. Their job is to help lift your foot upward. If you’ve been extremely active or wearing unsupportive shoes, you may have overworked these tendons. Overuse and improper footwear can cause inflammation and pain called extensor tendinitis
  • Stress fracture — Tiny cracks in the bones of your feet are called stress fractures. These can also cause pain on the top of your foot. These hairline fractures can develop because of repetitive stress, like running on hard surfaces or increasing your mileage too quickly.
  • Sinus tarsi syndrome — Pain and inflammation in a tiny joint on the outer side of your ankle is called sinus tarsi syndrome. It can be due to flat feet or repetitive stress. 
  • Peroneal nerve dysfunction — Sometimes the pain you’re feeling isn’t coming from your bones or muscles, but from your nerves. The peroneal nerve runs along the outside of your ankle. It is responsible for your foot and toes feeling sensations. If this nerve gets irritated or compressed, it can cause pain on the top of your foot. 
  • Bone spurs — As you age, wear and tear can cause bony bumps called bone spurs to form. These can irritate the tendons and ligaments on the top of your foot, causing pain and tenderness. 
  • Anterior ankle impingement — Anterior ankle impingement can happen when the bones of your ankle joint rub against each other abnormally. This friction can irritate the surrounding tissue and cause pain on the top of your foot. 
  • Bursitis — Bursae are the tiny fluid-filled sacs that help cushion your joints. They can sometimes become inflamed and cause a condition called bursitis to develop. When you have bursitis in the joint near your ankle, it can cause pain on the top of your foot. 
  • ArthritisOsteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that is caused by the breakdown of cartilage cushioning your joints. In the ankle, this breakdown can cause pain, stiffness, swelling and a bony bumpiness on the top of your foot near the ankle. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis that is an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause similar symptoms to osteoarthritis. 
  • Sprains and strains — These are injuries to the soft tissue in your foot and ankle. A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament, the tough bands that connect bones at a joint. A sprain is a stretch or tear of a muscle or tendon, the tissue that connects muscle to bone. Sprains and strains can happen from a sudden twist, fall or overuse. Both can cause pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising on the top of your foot near your ankle.
  • Flat feet — The arches in your feet help distribute your weight evenly. Flat feet, where the arch is collapsed, can put extra stress on the tendons and joints on the top of your feet. 

Symptoms to watch for

Pain in the top of your foot and near your ankle when walking or doing other activities isn’t always the only clue that something’s going on. Other symptoms to keep an eye on:

  • Swelling or redness on the top of your foot. 
  • Difficulty walking or putting weight on your foot.
  • Aching or throbbing pain. 
  • Tenderness to the touch. 
  • Numbness or tingling in your toes. 

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms along with the pain, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. 

Treatment options for pain on the top of your foot and near your ankle

There are a number of ways you can treat the pain you’re experiencing in your foot and ankle. One method may work for some, while others may need to experiment and use a combination of approaches. Treatment options can include:

  • Physical therapy.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Heat and cold therapy.
  • Orthopedic supports like shoe inserts, braces or walking boots.
  • Proper footwear.
  • Corticosteroid injections.
  • Surgery, in severe cases. 

Physical therapy techniques for pain on the top of your foot

Physical therapy can be a beneficial treatment for a variety of conditions, including those that can cause pain on the top of your foot near your ankle. Some techniques your physical therapist may use include:

  • Manual therapy Manual therapy is an umbrella term for a variety of hands-on approaches that can help improve your foot and ankle’s mobility and ease pain. Your physical therapist may use joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization or a combination of other manual therapy techniques. For joint mobilization, your physical therapist will use gentle gliding or stretching movement on the joints in your foot and ankle. These can help improve your range of motion and ease stiffness and pain. Soft tissue mobilization involves your physical therapist applying gentle pressure and kneading motions to the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your foot. This can help improve tissue flexibility, reduce pain and stiffness, and promote healing by encouraging better blood flow to the area. 
  • Aquatic therapy Aquatic therapy enables you to do exercises in a more weightless environment. The water supports your body weight, which can help reduce stress on your joints while you move, making it easier and less painful to strengthen the muscles that support your ankle. Aquatic therapy can also help improve your ankle’s range of motion. Improved range of motion can help you bend and flex your foot more easily. 
  • Dry needlingDry needling is a technique that involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles into trigger points in your foot and ankle joint. These trigger points are tight muscle knots that can contribute to pain. The needles can help deactivate trigger points and cause a brief muscle twitch. The muscle twitch can help relax the knot and release pain. Dry needling can also improve blood flow to the area and promote healing. 
  • Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) — IASTM uses specialized tools that your physical therapist can use to apply gentle pressure to glide across the soft tissue in your foot. This can help break down scar tissue that can form after an injury, boost circulation by increasing blood flow and reduce pain by promoting healing in the tissue. 
  • Therapeutic exercises — Your physical therapist may create a personalized therapeutic exercise routine designed around your specific needs and goals. These exercises can target the muscles that need strengthening, improve your balance and increase the range of motion in your ankle joint. Stronger muscles can better support your ankle, and better balance can help prevent future injuries. These exercises may involve using resistance bands, wobble boards or simply practicing standing on one leg.
  • Electrical stimulation — Electrical stimulation uses low-level electrical currents delivered through electrodes that are placed on your skin on and around the affected area. These currents can stimulate muscle contractions, strengthening weakened muscles in your foot and lower leg. Electrical stimulation can also help boost blood flow to the area, which can promote healing and reduce pain by blocking pain signals from reaching your brain. 

It’s important to listen to your body. If you are experiencing pain on the top of your foot, don’t ignore it. Early diagnosis and treatment can help get you back to enjoying all your favorite activities. A physical therapist can help you figure out the cause of your pain and recommend the best course of treatment to get you back on your feet. Working with a physical therapist can provide you with a valuable partner in your recovery, creating a personalized plan to address your pain.

Don’t let pain on the top of your foot near your ankle hold you back. Border Therapy Services can help get you back on your feet

At Border Therapy Services, our experienced team of physical therapists understands the complexities of foot pain and can design a personalized treatment plan to help target the root cause of your discomfort. Our goal is to address the underlying issue of your pain, not just mask the symptoms. We can help you take the first steps to a brighter future and doing the activities you love without the hindrance of foot and ankle pain. 

Call us or request an appointment today for help with your foot and ankle pain.