Stiff ankles in the morning: 5 common causes and treatments that can help

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Waking up to stiff ankles in the morning can make starting your day difficult. If you want to understand your body better, read on to learn about why you may be experiencing this discomfort and different ways PT can help treat your stiff ankles.

Common causes 

There are a variety of causes for stiff ankles in the morning. Lifestyle habits like working on your feet every day or being an avid soccer player can mean that you may have prolonged pressure in your ankles. Or, there may be an age-related cause for your stiff ankles.

You may also develop early-onset arthritis, which does happen to some young people, but there may also be other, more relevant factors behind your stiff ankles like an injury or tendinitis. Understanding the different possible causes of ankle stiffness can help you better identify which of them may be affecting you. Physical therapy is a noninvasive and effective option for treating stiff ankles, no matter the reason. A physical therapist can evaluate you and determine a treatment plan designed to get you back to your daily life.

Here are a few of the issues that can cause morning ankle stiffness:

1. Arthritis

Stiff ankles in the morning are often a symptom of or are caused by arthritis. Ankle arthritis is a degeneration of the cartilage in your ankle or ankles. Degeneration of cartilage is when the cartilage deteriorates and becomes less firm, making movement stiffer or possibly even painful. 

Arthritis-related ankle stiffness often occurs with age but can appear earlier for those who do lots of repeated motions or have high levels of activity. For instance, runners may feel stiffness when getting out of bed in the morning because of the wear and tear on their ankles. 

For some, this can happen earlier because of improper care or caution with activity. One example might be running with shoes that don’t cushion your feet properly. Factors like this, combined with repeated actions, can cause arthritis and thus stiffness earlier than it may for others.

For treatment of arthritis-related ankle stiffness, it would be beneficial to look into an ankle evaluation by a physical therapist to see what your ability levels are. This can help you take precautions with certain activities that may make your arthritis worse or flare up. It also is beneficial because an ankle evaluation can help you understand what areas may have stiffness or pain during activity or the next morning after activity. This kind of informational session can help you understand your body better and the causes behind your discomfort.

2. Tendinitis

Repeated movements can also cause tendinitis. This condition occurs when a tendon becomes inflamed, and this can cause aching, swelling and stiffness. 

An infection of the foot or ankle can be a cause of tendinitis. The infection could be from a bug or spider bite, scrape, or wound that has infected the area, but the source of the injury or infection is not always visible. In these cases, swelling may occur along with stiffness. 

A sudden injury can also cause tendinitis, such as a hard fall or hit to the ankle or foot. With tendinitis, you may also feel a grating sensation or weakness and pain in the affected ankle, along with stiffness and decreased mobility. 

Going to a physical therapist for functional movement systems can help you understand your ankle stiffness better. Functional movement systems therapy focuses on chronic conditions rather than acute conditions, which are defined by their sudden or severe onset. The purpose of this therapy is to identify long-term limitations in the body. With tendinitis, this can mean knowing your limitations in sports or activities so that you better understand how you should approach those activities. This kind of evaluation can help you identify how many areas are stiff and what your ability levels are with tendinitis.

3. Ankle sprain

An ankle sprain can happen from you rolling or falling on your ankle. This can happen to athletes as they run or jump and feel themselves land funny. Oftentimes after a sprain occurs, you feel immediate pain and your ankle will start to swell. Also, your ankle may feel tender or painful to the touch. 

With mild sprains, the swelling will likely go down after a few days and the pain will often decrease. But in more serious cases, you might not see a reduction in swelling for much longer, and your ankle may become stiff. 

A physical therapist can help you understand why you may have decreased mobility by identifying the specific sprained area. They can then use techniques in manual therapy to work on mobilizing that area over time. Manual therapy can help with mobilization through specific exercises and hands-on treatment that can reduce swelling and pain, and manipulate soft tissue and joints.

4. Trip or impact injuries

Injuries can happen at random or at work. But if you experienced a sharp blow, tripped, or knocked into something and since then have been experiencing stiffness in your ankles each morning, then your injury may have led to your ankle stiffness.

The injury could make the area inflamed, causing tendinitis. Depending on the circumstances and factors like age or activity level, you may be more likely to develop chronic symptoms, like stiffness, after an injury. However, speaking with a physical therapist can help you identify whether your ankle stiffness has been triggered by a short-term injury or a more long-term issue like tendinitis.

If you experienced this injury at work, you may want to consider reading about insurance and workers’ compensation on our patient resources page. This page has information about making claims for accommodations at your workplace as well as resources after an injury or accident has happened.

5. Overuse

This can happen from overly high levels of activity that involve using your ankle. For example, if you play soccer every day and constantly practice kicking the ball into the net, then you may have prolonged pressure in your ankle.

Stiffness may occur because of that pressure, and it may be exacerbated by a lack of stretching or relaxation in the area. This can cause you to later on develop arthritis or tendinitis because of the prolonged pressure and stiffness.

A physical therapist can provide stiff ankle treatment that may include many different techniques. For instance, your therapist may create a program of exercises or stretches that can ease the stiffness you feel in your ankles in the morning.

Find effective help for your morning ankle stiffness at Excel Rehab & Sports

Stiff ankles in the morning can be caused by many different issues. Having a physical therapist from Excel Rehab & Sports help with your stiffness can mean that you don’t have to try to understand it all by yourself. Our specialists can evaluate your ankles and help you learn the root cause of your stiffness. They can also determine the most effective path to feeling better and work to help you prevent ankle stiffness and pain in the future. 

Contact our team today for more information about how we can help treat your stiff ankles or to schedule an initial appointment with us.