What is an ankle effusion?

Ankle effusion is a buildup of fluid in the ankle joint. The effusion causes pain and swelling in the ankle, and can lead to complications because it can put pressure on the tissues in the surrounding area and damage them. Treatment of ankle effusion depends on the severity of the effusion and the cause. Patients often visit an orthopedic doctor or foot and ankle specialist for treatment of ankle injuries, as these doctors have special training and experience and are trained to handle such injuries. However, a general practitioner can also provide adequate care for basic injuries.

The effusion can occur within the ankle joint as a result of trauma, inflammation, or infection. Sports are a common cause of ankle trauma resulting in effusion, although swelling within the joint can also occur as a result of a fall that twists the ankle or a hard blow to the ankle. Inflammation and infection can be caused by any number of factors ranging from autoimmune inflammation caused by an overactive immune system to infection resulting from contact with an infectious organism.

When seen on medical imaging studies, ankle effusion is characterized by a distinctive "teardrop sign," a reference to the form fluid takes in the ankle. A doctor will order such studies to determine the extent of swelling and to check for injuries that may not be apparent on physical exam. For example, there could be a hairline fracture of one of the ankle bones that causes inflammation and swelling.

The first step in treating ankle effusion is to try to reduce the swelling so that the patient is more comfortable. Anti-inflammatory medications, including steroid injections into the ankle, may be prescribed to reduce severe swelling. Patients may also be advised to ice and elevate the ankle to promote a reduction in swelling. If the joint is extremely swollen, it may be aspirated with a needle to remove excess fluid.

When joint inflammation has been addressed, the doctor can address the cause. Fluid can collect within the synovial space within the ankle again, which can cause a recurrence of the ankle effusion and lead to complications. Steps may be taken to reduce swelling in the future, such as preparing the ankle at work, gentle stretching to strengthen the joint, or taking a break from sports to allow the body to fully recover.

Go up