Ankle Basics: Anatomy and Conditions

Having a healthy ankle helps you enjoy an active life. A healthy ankle is essential to walking, running, going up or down stairs, and moving through your everyday activities.

Ankle Anatomy

The ankle joint is where your leg and foot meet. It’s made up of the two bones in your lower leg (the tibia and fibula) and the bone at the top of your foot (the talus). There is another bone in your heel (the calcaneus). The ankle joint allows your foot to move up, down, and in other directions.

There are also soft tissues in your ankle joint. Ligaments, the bands of tissue connecting bones together, are located on each side of your ankle. They provide your ankle with stability. Tendons, the structures connecting muscle to bone, are located throughout your foot. Tendons assist with movement of the foot and toes.

Cartilage is the specialized tissue that covers the ends of your bones and allows them to glide against each other smoothly. It’s also one of the parts of the ankle most likely to be impacted by arthritis.

Ankle Pain and Arthritis

Only a doctor can determine the exact cause of ankle pain. For many patients, however, the cause is arthritis.

Arthritis is a disease that damages the cartilage and bones in the joint. As the damage gets worse, the bones may grind against each other and cause pain, stiffness, and swelling. Chronic ankle pain from arthritis can limit movement and disrupt sleep. It can have a significant impact on your quality of life.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Ankle Pain

If you have ankle pain, your doctor will likely recommend non-surgical options for initial treatment. Non-surgical options for treatment include:

  • Rest
  • Walking with a cane or other support device
  • Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication
  • Physical therapy

Surgical Treatments for Ankle Pain

If non-surgical treatments aren’t enough to address your pain, your doctor may recommend one of these surgical options:

  • Arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs or debris from the joint
  • Ankle fusion surgery
  • Ankle replacement surgery

Ankle Replacement Surgery

Ankle replacement is a surgical procedure in which the damaged parts of the ankle joint are removed and replaced with implants. The goal is to reduce pain and restore movement to your ankle.

Your individual outcome from ankle replacement will depend on several factors, including the condition of your ankle and your overall health. Some patients who have ankle replacement experience a decrease in pain but not an elimination of pain. Similarly, some patients experience an improvement in range of motion but not a return to maximum movement. Talk to your surgeon about your goals for ankle replacement, and ask what you can expect for your individual outcome.

For more information on the ankle replacement procedure, see the section Ankle Surgery. To learn more about the implants, see either CADENCE Total Ankle System or SALTO TALARIS Total Ankle Prosthesis.

All information provided on this website is for information purposes only. Every patient’s case is unique and each patient should follow his or her doctor’s specific instructions. Please discuss nutrition, medication and treatment options with your doctor to make sure you are getting the proper care for your particular situation. If you are seeking this information in an emergency situation, please call 911 and seek emergency help.