When Ankle Pain May Mean Arthritis 

Many forms of arthritis and related conditions can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in the ankles. 

If you are experiencing pain, swelling and stiffness in the ankles, you may have one of the following types of arthritis or related conditions. 


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. Also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, OA is a chronic condition caused by the breakdown of the cartilage, which cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. This breakdown causes the bones to rub together, causing stiffness, pain and loss of joint movement. In ankle OA, it’s common to have joint pain where the ankle and shinbone meet. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system – which normally protects us from infection – mistakenly attacks joints. The result can be pain, swelling, inflammation and loss of function. In about 90 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis, the joints of the feet and ankles are often affected. RA usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body (both ankles). 


Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when excess uric acid builds up in the bloodstream and forms needle-shaped crystals. The sharp crystals lodge in tissues of the body, including the joints. For many people, the first symptom of gout is severe pain and swelling in the big toe, but it can affect any joint, including the ankles. Symptoms include a rapid onset of severe pain, which usually reaches its peak after 4 to 12 hours. Lingering pain from gout attacks can persist for weeks, and later attacks tend to last longer and affect more joints. After years with the disease, lumps of uric acid, called tophi, may form beneath the skin around the ankles.

Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis is a form of arthritis that often occurs following an infection of the genital, urinary or gastrointestinal system. The knees, ankles and joints of the feet are often the first to be affected. Reactive arthritis can also cause inflammation of the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle. 


Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, meaning the body's immune system creates antibodies that attack healthy tissues. It  may affect the joints, skin, heart, lungs and kidneys. Ankle swelling can be a sign of lupus. In some cases, ankles can turn blue from sensitivity to cold, a symptom of Raynaud’s phenomenon. This condition occurs in one-third of people with lupus.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that usually involves the skin disease, psoriasis. The condition more commonly causes swelling of the fingers or toes (dactylitis) or the back of the heel (enthesitis), but it may also cause ankle pain.

Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis when it begins before age 16. There are several types of juvenile arthritis that can cause pain and swelling in the ankles.

Getting a Proper Diagnosis

Other common sources of ankle pain include sprain, fracture and inflammation of the Achilles tendon that runs from the calf to the heel bone (Achilles tendonitis). 

Arthritis is difficult to self-diagnose. Talk with your primary care doctor as soon as possible about your symptoms. You may be referred to a rheumatologist or orthopedist to get an accurate diagnosis so you can get the medical care you need. Left undiagnosed and untreated, your condition may worsen and cause disability.  

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