As every athlete knows, repetitive motions can lead to wear and tear which can give way to painful injuries over time. The movement of kicking–such as in sports like soccer, also known as football–is no different. The repetitive strain kicking a ball can place on the connective tissue, or ligaments, in the front of the ankle, can lead to the painful condition known as footballer’s ankle. Because footballer’s ankle also can be the result of flexing the foot–not necessarily kicking with it–the condition also sometimes occurs in dancers, basketball players and baseball catchers.
Kicking repetitively can enflame certain ligaments and tendons in the ankle, making it painful to stretch the foot downward, straightening the toes. The extra room that these irritated ligaments can take up can mean they get trapped between the bones of the ankle, making it painful to move the foot upward, flexing it into an “L” shape. This is known as impingement syndrome because the ligaments get pinched between the bones. Extra bone growths known as osteophytes also can develop in the ankle, causing further pain when you flex your foot.
Footballer’s ankle can also cause weakness in the ankle, and you may experience a clicking sound as you flex and straighten the ankle.
If you think you may have footballer’s ankle, you should see a sports injury specialist as soon as possible. He or she can examine your ankle and rule out other causes of the pain. He or she will look for signs of swelling and establish which movements cause you pain. Finally, an X-ray might be necessary to evaluate whether you have developed bone growths in the ankle.
Sometimes rest, icing, using a compression bandage, and elevating the affected foot, along with stretches and exercises to encourage range-of-motion, are enough to clear up footballer’s ankle. If not, however, surgery may be necessary to shave away excess tissue and bone growths.