Ankle impingement occurs when either soft or bony tissues are compressed within the ankle joint at the extreme end of a motion, such as pointing the foot sharply downward. It typically affects people who experience forces through their ankle at these “end-range” positions, such as dancers, gymnasts, or people performing kicking activities. Additionally, people who perform repetitive tasks that involve squatting or stair-climbing are susceptible to this condition. Our highly skilled physical therapists at Progressive Physical Therapy help patients with ankle impingement reduce their pain, heal and strengthen the affected area, and improve their overall balance.

What is an ankle impingement? 

Ankle impingement can be categorized into 2 types:

  • Anterior ankle impingement
  • Posterior ankle impingement

Anterior ankle impingement involves pain on the front side of your ankle. Inflammation and swelling occur due to repetitive stresses at end-range positions of the ankle, such as when one jumps, squats, or descends stairs. These may eventually lead to development of bone spurs (a bony overgrowth) in the ankle joint space. An additional cause of anterior ankle impingement is ankle instability. Ankle instability is a looseness of the ankle joint that develops after repeated ankle sprains, causing damage to ligaments in the ankle. This damage can cause the ligaments to become scarred and take up more joint space. Tissue in the joint space is then compressed, causing pain during activities that require ankle dorsiflexion (stretching your toes up toward your shin). Examples of these activities include squatting, jumping, and stair-climbing.

Posterior ankle impingement involves pain on the back side of your ankle, especially during activities that involve pointing your toes. The pain is caused by compression of soft or bony tissue between the shin bone (tibia) and the heel bone (calcaneus). Some people have a small extra bone in the back of their ankle called the Os Trigonum. This little bone can lead to posterior impingement because of compression between the shin bone and the heel bone, when the foot is pointed. Additionally, large amounts of force on the ankle occasionally may cause small pieces to break off the ankle bone, which can also become compressed when the ankle moves into “end-range plantar flexion” (moving the foot or toes downward toward the sole of the foot). Compression of tissue causes inflammation and swelling that leads to pain.

How can a physical therapist help?

Once you have been diagnosed with ankle impingement, our physical therapists at Progressive Physical Therapy will work with you to achieve your functional goals, and help you return to activities you previously performed without pain. Your treatment may include:

Pain Management. Your physical therapist may use ice massage or electrical stimulation, if you have inflammation causing pain. Your physical therapist may ask you to reduce your activity level for a while, so the inflammation in your ankle can decrease.

Range-of-Motion Exercises. Your physical therapist may gently move your ankle through its available range of motion, or teach you the proper motions to move through in order to increase its mobility and decrease stiffness. If necessary, your physical therapist may perform joint mobilizations—skillfully moving the joint in a particular direction to improve its motion.

Muscle-Strengthening Exercises. It is important to strengthen the muscles acting on the foot, ankle, and lower leg to promote proper joint mechanics. When the muscles are strong and working properly, the joint space in the ankle is maintained, which decreases the risk of compression of soft or bony tissues.

Balance Exercises. Your physical therapist may give you balance exercises to challenge the way your body reacts to outside forces. These exercises make you more aware of where your body is in space. Improving your balance will lead to a more stable ankle, because your body can more easily respond to challenges.

Functional Training. Once your physical therapist has helped decrease your ankle pain and inflammation, you will progress to more activity-specific tasks. Your physical therapist will help ensure that your ankle can withstand challenges during occupational, sport, or artistic activities.

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