Chronic ankle instability is a condition that results from recurrent lateral ankle sprains. It may cause a patient to have the feeling that their ankle “gives out” on them and causes a loss of balance or a fall. It is common in athletes and others who have suffered from recurrent ankle sprains or untreated ankle sprains.
Symptoms of Ankle Instability Include:
Chronic ankle instability is often the result of an ankle sprain that was not adequately healed or treated properly. It is one of the reasons it is so important to see a physician if you injured or rolled your ankle. Often when an ankle is sprained, it is at high risk for recurrence causing more damage if it is not treated properly.
Proper rehabilitation is needed to strengthen the muscles around the ankle and “retrain” the tissues within the ankle that affect balance. Failure to do so may result in repeated ankle sprains.
Repeated ankle sprains often cause – and perpetuate – chronic ankle instability. Each subsequent sprain leads to further weakening (or stretching) of the ligaments, resulting in greater instability and the likelihood of developing additional problems in the ankle.
A foot and ankle specialist will use clinical exam as well as radiographs to assess the ankle. Often a fracture needs to be ruled out as ankle sprains can be severe injuries. Your physician will check for tender areas, swelling, and signs of instability.
In almost 95% of ankle sprains the outside or lateral portion of the foot is injured.
Treatment for chronic ankle instability is based on the results of the examination and tests, as well as on the patient’s level of activity. Non-surgical treatment may include:
Physical therapy. Physical therapy involves various treatments and exercises to strengthen the ankle, improve balance and range of motion, and retrain your muscles. As you progress through rehabilitation, you may also receive training that relates specifically to your activities or sport.
Bracing. Some patients wear an ankle brace to gain support for the ankle and keep the ankle from turning. Bracing also helps prevent additional ankle sprains.
Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation.
When Is Surgery Needed?
In some cases, the foot and ankle surgeon will recommend surgery based on the degree of instability or lack of response to non-surgical approaches. Surgery usually involves repair or reconstruction of the damaged ligament(s). The surgeon will select the surgical procedure best suited for your case based on the severity of the instability and your activity level. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.
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