What are the Most Common Causes of Calf and Ankle Pain?

Dan Cavallari

The causes of calf and ankle pain will vary significantly from person to person, but common causes include injuries and trauma, overuse of the ankle joint or calves, ruptured muscles, muscle strains, shin splints, and even nerve damage. Pain in the calf and ankle may occur simultaneously or independently; if it occurs at the same time, the cause of the pain may be linked to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, or bones in that area, or the nerve that services that area of the body may be compressed or otherwise damaged, leading to painful sensations throughout the lower leg. A proper diagnosis is usually necessary, which means a visit to a healthcare provider may be in order.

A healthcare provider examining a woman's calf and ankle.
A healthcare provider examining a woman's calf and ankle.

Injuries resulting from some sort of trauma are the most common causes of pain in the calf and ankle. A bone fracture, for example, can cause mild to severe pain in the affected region; a fracture in the heel may cause pain throughout the foot as well as in the lower leg. An injury on one leg can also cause pain in the other, as the uninjured leg must often bear more of the body's weight to compensate for the injured leg. If the calf and ankle pain occurs in the same leg, the pain in one area may be referred pain that results from an injury in the other.

A person with a sprained ankle.
A person with a sprained ankle.

Any of the nerves that service the lower legs can cause calf and ankle pain independently or simultaneously. The sciatic nerve, for example, starts in the lower back and runs all the way down to the feet. If this nerve gets compressed or otherwise damaged anywhere along its length, it may cause pain in any part of the legs, lower back, hips, or feet. Nerve pain is often a sharp pain, though it can also manifest itself as numbness, weakness, soreness, dull aches, and even a loss of motor control in certain areas of the lower body. If a person experiences severe neurological issues, such as a loss of motor control, he or she should visit a medical professional immediately.

Sciatica can cause pain from the lower back down to the feet.
Sciatica can cause pain from the lower back down to the feet.

Muscle strains and ruptures can also cause pain in the lower leg. A strain occurs when the tiny fibers that make up a muscle begin to tear due to abnormal use or sudden shock. A rupture occurs when the muscle separates entirely from itself or from tendons that connect it to bone. This is considered a serious condition and will often require a surgery to fix.

Sprains and strains are common causes of ankle pain.
Sprains and strains are common causes of ankle pain.

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Discussion Comments


I grew up with four siblings who were all into sports and now I have kids who are into sports at school. I can pretty much tell what's causing calf and ankle pain from my experience.

If there is tenderness and swelling along with the pain, it's definitely an injury or a strain. If there is no swelling but the pain is constant and doesn't go away with rest, then it's probably a foot problem.

My grandmother has arthritis related ankle and knee pain that resonates to the calf, so that's another cause in older people.


@simrin-- Have you been doing hot water soaks with Epsom salt? This is great for ankle and calf pain. You can also apply a topical pain relieving cream. This is what I do.

I have flat feet, as well as weak ankles. I had an ankle injury years ago where I ripped a tendon. Calf and ankle pain is common for me for this reason. If I wear the wrong shoes or overuse my legs and feet, I develop pain that takes days of rest to go away.


I went hiking last weekend and I've been having really bad calf, foot and ankle pain since then. I knew I was out of shape, but I wasn't expecting it to be this bad.

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