Many forms of arthritis and related conditions that affect the joints, muscles and/or bones can cause problems like pain, stiffness and swelling in the ankles. Here are some diseases that can affect the ankles.

  • Osteoarthritis (OA). The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. This breakdown causes the bones to rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the joint. In the foot, the most commonly affected joint is the big toe, but OA can also affect the ankle.

Learn more about osteoarthritis.

Experts answer your questions about osteoarthritis.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that occurs when the body’s immune system – which normally protects us from infection – mistakenly attacks the synovium, the thin membrane that lines the joints. The result can be joint damage, pain, swelling, inflammation, loss of function and disability. In about 90 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis, the joints of the feet are ankles are affected.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis.

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

Read more about juvenile arthritis.

  • Gout. Gout is a form of  arthritis that occurs when excess uric acid, a bodily waste product circulating in the bloodstream, is deposited as needle-shaped monosodium urate crystals in tissues of the body, including the joints. For many people, the first symptom of gout is excruciating pain and swelling in the big toe – often following a trauma, such as an illness or injury. Subsequent attacks may occur off and on in other joints, including the ankles. After years with the disease, lumps of uric acid, called tophi, may form beneath the skin around the ankles.

Learn more about gout.

  • Calcium Pyrophosphate Dihydrate Crystal Deposition Disease (Pseudogout). Like gout, pseudogout occurs when crystals form within the joints. With pseudogout, however, the crystals are formed of a salt called calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate. Although pseudogout occurs mostly in older people, it can affect younger people, particularly if they have other health problems. Also like gout, pseudogout can cause intense pain and swelling, which often comes up overnight. Pseudogout most commonly affects the knees, but it can also affect other joints, including the ankles.  

Learn more about pseudogout.

  • Reactive arthritis. Reactive arthritis is a chronic form of arthritis that often occurs following an infection of the genital, urinary or gastrointestinal system. Features of reactive arthritis include inflammation and swelling of the joints, eyes and structures within the gastrointestinal or genitourinary tracts, such as intestines, kidneys or bladder. The ankles, knees and joints of the feet often are the first joints affected by reactive arthritis. Reactive arthritis also can cause inflammation of the tendons, including the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases answers your questions about reactive arthritis.