Ankle Lumps

Written by: Breanna Santoso, OMS-II

Do you have unexplained lumps or bumps on your ankles? If so, you may be wondering what they are and whether they require medical attention. While it’s important to visit your healthcare provider for any medical concerns, many ankle lumps can be relieved without aggressive intervention. 

In this blog post, we will explore common causes of these types of bumps along with possible treatments. We hope that by reading through the information contained herein, you will have a better understanding of how best to care for your unique orthopedic condition.

If you would like to speak to an orthopedic surgeon about ankle lumps, contact OrthoNeuro today! Our specialists are available at many locations throughout Columbus, Ohio.

What Are Ankle Lumps?

Ankle lumps are protuberances or localized swellings of the ankle that result in changes to the soft tissue structure. These lumps can be common among patients and can occur over any joint throughout the body. 

A patient with ankle lumps in Columbus, Ohio.

Ankle lumps are generally asymptomatic, but some may be associated with pain, stiffness, or impaired cosmetic appearance. Conservative or surgical treatment options are effective in reducing or eliminating these lumps. 

It is important to understand the different types of ankle lumps and assess how they may be impacting your daily functioning.

What Causes Ankle Lumps?

Common causes of ankle lumps include:

  • Injury
  • Trauma
  • Overuse

Ankle lumps most commonly affect female patients as well as middle-aged to elderly populations. Other risk factors may include:

  • Chronic liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Long-term alcohol abuse

Types of Ankle Lumps and Symptoms

Ankle lumps are commonly diagnosed as:

  • Ganglion cysts (most common)
  • Mucoid cysts
  • Inclusion cysts
  • Sebaceous cysts
  • Plantar fibroma
  • Swelling 

Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion cysts are small, often painless, fluid-filled bumps under the skin that commonly sit over joints or tendons in the wrist, knee, or ankle. Although they are usually painless, ganglion cysts may present with pain or tingling sensations if they are compressing a nerve or repeatedly rubbing against a sock or shoe. 

The underlying cause is unknown, but some medical professionals suggest that repetitive microtrauma may result in the breakdown of connective tissue and accumulation of gelatinous mucoid material that pouches out from an inflamed joint space or tendon sheath. 

Ganglion cysts are harmless but may cause discomfort, tenderness, pain, weakness of the joint, or dissatisfaction with cosmetic appearance.

Mucoid Cysts

Mucoid cysts are small, firm, rubbery, fluid-filled sacs that usually affect the fingers or toes. They are commonly associated with osteoarthritis of the affected joint. They are usually not painful, as they generally don’t grow large enough to put pressure on nerves.

Inclusion Cysts

Epidermal inclusion cysts are the most common type of cutaneous cysts and occur when elements in the epidermis of the skin implant down into the dermis layer. They typically present as small, freely movable nodules beneath the skin with a distinct point in the center due to keratin rather than sebum. 

These lumps range from a few millimeters to a few centimeters in diameter, and lesions may enlarge over time. Infected or fluctuant cysts tend to be larger, red, and more painful.

Sebaceous Cysts

Sebaceous cysts are large lumps that are filled with an oily, waxy substance called sebum from sebaceous glands in the skin. When these glands become blocked by debris, swollen hair follicles, or trauma to the foot, swelling or infection may occur. They often appear on the scalp, face, ears, back, or groin. 

Sebaceous cysts may resolve within about four weeks, but some may get progressively larger over time. They rarely cause pain and may be associated with Gardner’s syndrome or basal cell nevus syndrome.

Plantar Fibroma

Plantar fibromas are rare, benign growths on the plantar fascia, which is a ligament that connects the heel to the toes and supports the arch of the foot. They are usually less than an inch in diameter and can make patients feel as if they are “walking on a pebble.” They are not dangerous but may present with pain or discomfort when walking.

Diagnosis of Ankle Lumps

You may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor to examine your ankle lump, assess for signs of cancer, and discuss treatment. Diagnosis of ankle cysts includes a workup of:

  • Physical examination
  • Evaluation of medical history
  • Tumor fluid test from biopsy
  • X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI images

Ankle Lump Treatment

Ganglion cysts may go away on their own. Still, if your symptoms persist or your ankle lump impacts your daily functioning, your doctor may discuss different options for conservative or surgical treatment with you. It is important never to attempt to drain a cyst on your own, as it can result in infection or scarring.

Conservative Treatments

If you are experiencing discomfort when walking or wearing shoes, your doctor may recommend orthotics to make walking and running more comfortable. Steroid injections or 1% hydrocortisone cream are also effective in managing pain. 

Excision and drainage is the most common conservative treatment, as it is minimally invasive, quick, and inexpensive. However, this procedure is associated with a higher recurrence rate than more invasive treatment like surgery.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be indicated for patients who have failed conservative treatment and continue to experience symptoms. This procedure is often performed with general anesthesia, and it may take up to 4 weeks for the skin to heal. 

The most common complication is recurrence. Although rare, soft tissue infection, joint stiffness, and draining of the sinus tract may also occur, so it is important to discuss with your doctor what the best option may be.

Book Your Appointment

Contact OrthoNeuro for an accurate diagnosis of your ankle lump. Our orthopedic surgeons will also recommend the most effective treatment to treat your condition. We can be found in several locations throughout Columbus, Ohio. Book your appointment now!


Medically Reviewed by Nick Cheney, DO

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