Active people are no strangers to pain, but there is both a good and a bad kind. Discomfort from slightly sore muscles after working hard and stretching well is a good ache. Pain that inhibits your activities or daily life, however, is not normal. It’s the body signaling that something is wrong. A common uncomfortable issue that athletes and other active people face is pain in the back of the ankle. It can have many different causes, including peroneal tendonitis. This is not a “healthy” kind of discomfort—and it needs to be cared for before it gets worse and interferes with your ability to walk.

What Is It?

Peroneal tendonitis is a painful swelling and thickening of the peroneal tendon. This connective tissue runs from the side of the foot behind the outside of the ankle and up into the leg, connecting to the muscle that runs behind a thin bone called the fibula. Its main job it to help pull the foot outward. When it becomes overworked, however, it swells, making the back of the ankle uncomfortable and walking more difficult. This typically happens when it becomes overworked, frequently from sudden changes in activity, increased exercise intensity, or bad shoes. The muscle and tendon must work harder to help stabilize the foot for the new or increased activity, or the improper foot placement from bad shoes. A person who has an alignment abnormality that turns the foot inward may also be at risk—the connective tissues would be working harder to hold the foot where it belongs.

How Can It Be Treated?

Fortunately, since this is an overuse injury, conservative treatments are generally very successful. To accurately diagnose this condition, we’ll need to evaluate your ankle. We may also request x-rays or MRIs to get a better look at the structures inside your foot and make sure the affected tissues haven’t torn. Once the exact cause has been determined, we will work with you to develop a treatment plan to relieve your pain and get you back to your activities.

Resting the tendon is the most important factor. You may need an ankle brace or boot to stabilize the foot while it heals, especially if the pain is severe. They may recommend icing the ankle and using anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce the swelling and treat the discomfort. Once the pain has decreased and the doctor has cleared you to begin your activities again, physical therapy may be helpful for conditioning the tendon to handle the strain of exercising. In serious cases when the peroneal tendon is not responding to conservative treatments—or a tear in the tissues exists—surgery may become necessary.

Peroneal tendonitis takes time to recover from, especially if allowed to worsen. It can be treated easily and more quickly if caught sooner. If you’re experiencing pain in the back of your ankle, don’t let it reach the point that even walking is uncomfortable. The experts at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona can help relieve your pain and get you back to the activities you love.