Ankle Pain and Ankle Injuries

Foot and Ankle Doctors in Durham, Raleigh, Cary

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Ankle sprains are among the most common ankle injuries. They occur when one or more of your ankle ligaments are torn or stretched. Duke foot and ankle specialists throughout the Triangle can assess the severity of your injury and recommend the best treatment plan to heal your ankle and lower your risk for chronic ankle pain and instability. 

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When to Seek Treatment

A torn or stretched ankle ligament can occur from simply walking down the street or when playing vigorous sports. The damage can range from mild to severe. A complete tear of the ankle ligament can cause your ankle joint to partially dislocate. This might sound like a pop and can be as painful as an ankle fracture. Immediate medical attention is required to determine the extent of your ankle injury.

Visit Duke Orthopaedics Urgent Care
Our convenient orthopaedic urgent care clinic is open seven days a week. Get fast service with no long waits and no unnecessary exposure to illness. No appointment needed; walk-ins are welcome.

Ankle Instability Increases Your Risk for Chronic Ankle Pain
Mild ankle injuries benefit from medical attention too. Ankle sprains that don’t heal properly can weaken your ankle over time and lead to chronic ankle pain. Ankle instability can put you at increased risk for chronic ankle pain and ankle arthritis. Duke foot and ankle experts use a variety of imaging techniques to evaluate your ankle injury, including X-rays to look for broken bones, and MRI and ultrasound to evaluate the health of your soft tissues, including ankle tendons, cartilage, and ankle ligaments.

If you have pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion in your ankle, you could have ankle arthritis. Unlike arthritis of the hip or knee, ankle arthritis is most often the result of a prior injury, trauma, or longstanding joint instability. Here Dr. Karl Schweitzer, a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon at Duke Health, discusses the causes of ankle arthritis, and various treatments. 

Duke Orthopaedic Clinics

Duke Health orthopaedic clinics are located throughout the Triangle. In-person and virtual appointments are available.

Nonsurgical Ankle Treatments

Ankle sprains can be treated with the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method, ankle bracing, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. When that's not enough, your foot and ankle specialist may recommend one of the following nonsurgical treatment options.


Steroid injections may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation and increase ankle joint mobility. Our orthopaedic surgeons may recommend other types of injections that use cells from your own body to help regenerate torn and injured ligaments and tendons in the ankle joint, shorten healing time, and delay or possibly eliminate the need for surgery.

Physical Therapy

Our ankle-specific physical therapists can help you avoid stiffness, increase your ankle strength, and prevent ankle instability. They work closely with your doctor to create a personalized sport- and activity-specific therapy plan to improve your mobility and strengthen your ankle, its muscles, and tendons. Your plan may include resistance exercises, water exercises, balance training, and endurance and agility exercises. 

Sports Medicine

Our sports medicine specialists are trained to care for sports-related injuries and specialize in the treatment of every level of athlete. They include primary care doctors, physiatrists, physical therapists, and orthopaedic surgeons. They help you recover from an ankle injury, prevent injury, and can work with you to improve your sports performance. They help active individuals return to the activities they love. 

Ankle Surgery

Ankle surgery may be recommended if you have persistent ankle instability and chronic ankle pain that has not responded to months of nonsurgical treatment. Ankle surgery may be needed to clean out the joint or repair and/or reconstruct torn ligaments. If arthritis has caused extensive damage to your ankle joint, you may be a candidate for ankle fusion or ankle replacement surgery.

Ankle Arthroscopy

A tiny tube-like device with a camera at its tip -- called an arthroscope -- is inserted into the ankle joint through small incisions. Ankle arthroscopy allows your ankle surgeon to view your joint, clean away chipped bones and scar tissue, and repair or reconstruct ankle tissues that may be torn or stretched.

Ankle Ligament Reconstruction

Severely torn ankle ligaments may be repaired or reconstructed using tendons taken from elsewhere in the body or from donor tissue.

Ankle Fusion

Ankle arthrodesis, or ankle fusion, may be recommended if you have severe ankle arthritis and are not a candidate for ankle replacement surgery. Two bones below the ankle joint are fused together to reinforce the ankle and reduce ankle instability. The long-lasting procedure reduces pain and restores some function.

Ankle Replacement Surgery

Also referred to as ankle arthroplasty or total ankle replacement, this procedure can be the treatment of choice for severe ankle arthritis and damaged ankle joints. A metal and plastic ankle implant replaces the diseased ankle joint. Total ankle replacement surgery reduces pain and restores function.

Innovative Avascular Necrosis Treatment

Chronic ankle pain can be a sign of avascular necrosis, a condition that occurs when the blood supply to the ankle is disrupted and can result in the death of ankle bone tissue. This can be extremely debilitating and painful, and even put the ankle at risk for amputation. Duke foot and ankle surgeons and plastic surgeons perform complex procedures that restore blood supply to the ankle bone in the face of serious ankle trauma, fractures, and joint damage. We are also using 3D printing to create replacements for foot and ankle bones when avascular necrosis is present. This innovation can prevent the need for amputation and help you regain much of your normal ankle function.

Best Orthopaedic Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your care matters. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our orthopaedics program is nationally ranked, and the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

Seek Care from an Experienced Ankle Surgeon

Extensive Experience
Duke foot and ankle experts perform hundreds of foot and ankle procedures each year. They are board certified and fellowship trained in foot and ankle surgery.

Leading Ankle Researchers
Our foot and ankle surgeons' extensive research on ankle sprains, ankle instability, and ankle arthritis has informed the way we approach treatment. We understand how ankle instability changes the forces that impact the ankle. The results of our research help us get you back on your feet faster.

Ankle Repair and Ankle Reconstruction Surgery
Our foot and ankle surgeons use the latest techniques to repair and reconstruct ankle joints with bone and tissue grafts. These advances can result in less pain and better function.

Ankle Replacement Surgery Advances
We have extensive experience with the newest ankle implants and procedures. We were involved in the development or refinement of many of the ankle implants used in total ankle replacement surgery. Some of the newer ankle implants are only available at major ankle centers like Duke. They get you back to weight-bearing activities sooner.

Minimally Invasive Techniques
When ankle fracture or ankle trauma is present, we use minimally invasive surgical techniques. The small incisions translate to faster recoveries and a quicker return to your daily activities.

This page was medically reviewed on 04/05/2021