Common Causes Of A Swollen Foot And Ankle

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

Sometimes, having an exciting and active lifestyle may lead to undesirable injuries. For example, you may have been so excited about your dancing class that you decided to skip the warm up stretches and jumped right in, only to end class early because you sprained your ankle. The next day, your foot swells to the size of a melon and is tender to the touch. If the swelling is minor, it may heal fully by itself in a matter of days. However, if the pain persists and worsens, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to rule out fractures, dislocations or other serious medical conditions.

What Can Cause Swelling?

Foot and ankle swelling can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from skin-deep injuries to muscular-bone injury. Some reasons for swelling may be:

  • Sprained ankle or joint
  • Sunburn
  • Allergic reaction to insect bites or plants
  • Thrombosis (blockage in veins)
  • Lymphatic obstruction
  • Fractured or broken bones
  • Dislocation of a joint
  • Complications with pregnancy
  • Tendon or muscle tears
  • Infection
  • Pre-cancerous tumor

If you are not sure why your foot is swelling, you may want to seek a medical opinion to rule out more serious health conditions. While mild physical injuries may heal by themselves in a few days, be sure to seek emergency care if the pain or swelling worsens or does not go away; the same advice goes for allergic reactions, if it worsens to a life-threatening condition.

Treatment and Tips for Temporary Relief

Depending on the cause of the swelling, there are several ways to provide treatment and temporary relief. If the swelling is of an allergic nature, such as that from poison ivy or a vicious bug bite, you should:

  • Immediately wash swollen area to get rid of the remaining allergens on your skin.
  • Take over-the-counter antihistamine medications.
  • Apply cortisone cream to reduce the allergic reaction.
  • Be sure to seek emergency care if the allergic reaction worsens to a life-threatening condition.

If it is due to a bad sunburn, be sure to:

  • Immediately apply aloe-based gels to decrease inflammation.
  • Keep yourself hydrated.
  • Wear protective clothing and sunscreen to prevent further episodes.

If your swelling is a mild and of a physical nature, you may want to try the HI-RICE method to shorten recovery time and reduce pain. This treatment is commonly used for soft tissue injury, such as the case of foot and ankle swelling. HI-RICE stands for:

  • Hydration: be sure to keep yourself hydrated during recovery time, as water can also help reduce swelling by calming inflammation.
  • Ibuprofen: this is an over the counter, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly used for pain relief by decreasing inflammation. Common brand names include Motrin and Advil, but generic brands can be just as effective. Be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle for correct dosage.
  • Rest: the last thing you want to do is to stress and put weight on your swollen joint, so be sure to get plenty of rest for a speedy recovery. Failure to rest can result in abnormal healing, inflammation, and possible future complications with your ankle or foot.
  • Ice: ice can help with pain and inflammation by lowering the temperature of the swelling. To prevent frostbite or discomfort, be sure to wrap the ice or ice pack in a towel or some padding rather than placing it directly on the swelling, and take breaks between application.
  • Compression: by adding gentle pressure to the site, the swelling may decrease. Ideally, a soft, elastic compression bandage should be wrapped snugly, but not too tight, around the foot or ankle. Take note not to wrap the bandage too tightly, as it may impede proper blood circulation to the foot.
  • Elevation: by elevating the foot or ankle above the heart level, it can help decrease the edema and speed up waste removal in the affected limb.

During this time, try to avoid excess sodium intake, which may increase edema and make the inflammation worse. Be sure to protect your injury during the recovering process, and seek immediate medical attention if the pain worsens and the swelling persists.


To prevent mysterious ankle or foot swelling episodes in the future, you may want to take some preventative measures:

  • Warm up your muscles by stretching prior to physical activities.
  • Strengthen your ankles and foot by doing balancing exercises.
  • Wear appropriate shoes for the appropriate terrain.
  • Ladies, be sure to wear sky-high heels with caution.
  • Wear protective gear, such as ankle supporting shoes, when putting excessive strain on your foot or ankle.
  • Be sure to stay clear of allergens or insects that may give you a bad swelling.
  • Wear sunscreen and protective clothing to prevent sunburns.


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