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Some common causes of ankle swelling include injury such as a sprained ankle, prolonged standing, and water retention. In addition, ankle edema can be related to cardiac conditions such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease. A broken ankle or turned ankle are also causes of ankle swelling, however, in addition to the ankle swelling itself, these conditions can cause significant pain and discoloration.
Treating ankle swelling depends on the cause. For swollen ankles caused by prolonged standing, sitting or lying down with the legs elevated can provide relief from ankle edema. When ankle swelling is related to an injury, ice packs and anti-inflammatory medications can reduce swelling and resultant pain. If the ankle is broken, however, the patient may require casting, or in extreme cases, surgery.
When the causes of ankle swelling are thought to be cardiac in nature, medical tests will be indicated. In addition, medications called diuretics might be prescribed to remove fluid not only from the tissues of the ankle, but from around the heart as well. Kidney-related ankle swelling might respond to blood pressure medications, potassium and magnesium supplements, or a special diet. Before a treatment recommendation can be made, diagnostic studies need to be performed to pinpoint the causes.
Heating pads are typically not recommended for the treatment of swollen ankles, because heat exacerbates swelling and can even increase pain. When applying an ice pack to the ankle, it is important to provide a barrier between exposed skin and the source of ice. Failure to protect the skin from the ice pack might result in a burn or cause tissue damage. Causes of ankle swelling related to minor injuries typically resolve on their own with minimal treatment.
When dealing with causes of ankle swelling related to injuries, it is important to keep weight off the affected foot. Exerting undue pressure can promote ankle and foot swelling and delay healing. Bruising or discoloration that accompanies a broken or sprained ankle typically make the injury look worse than it really is. Though the discoloration can become quite dark, it will subside, changing from dark purple, to green and yellow, then finally fading.
A slang condition called "cankles" refers to thick looking ankles. Although this can mimic swelling, it is typically a genetic condition, which makes the ankles take on the same appearance and circumference as the calves of the legs. The look of cankles can sometimes be minimized with certain exercises such as ankle rotations and walking, however, the effect is usually minimal. The only permanent solution to minimizing the look of cankles is to have plastic surgery, which in most cases, is unwarranted and unnecessary.