Chronic ankle instability is a condition characterized by recurrent instability on the outer (lateral) side of the ankle. It often arises as a consequence of repetitive ankle sprains. Typically, this instability manifests during activities like walking, participating in sports, or even when standing still. Numerous athletes and non-athletes alike experience chronic ankle instability.
Individuals with chronic ankle instability often report the following symptoms:
- Frequent ankle rolling, especially on uneven surfaces or during physical activities.
- Persistent discomfort and swelling.
- Pain or tenderness.
- A sensation of instability or wobbliness in the ankle.
Causes of Chronic Ankle Instability
Chronic ankle instability usually develops following an inadequately healed or unrehabilitated ankle sprain. An ankle sprain stretches or tears the ligaments, affecting one’s balance. Proper rehabilitation is crucial to strengthen the ankle muscles and retrain the ankle’s internal structures responsible for balance. Neglecting this rehabilitation can result in recurring ankle sprains.
Repeated ankle sprains can lead to, and perpetuate, chronic ankle instability. Each subsequent sprain further weakens or stretches the ligaments, increasing instability and the risk of additional ankle issues.
Diagnosis of Chronic Ankle Instability
In diagnosing your condition, a foot and ankle surgeon will inquire about any previous ankle injuries and experiences of instability. The surgeon will also conduct a physical examination to assess tenderness, signs of swelling, and ankle instability. X-rays or other imaging studies may be used for further evaluation.
The treatment approach for chronic ankle instability depends on examination results and the patient’s activity level. Non-surgical treatments may involve:
- Physical therapy: This includes various therapies and exercises to enhance ankle strength, balance, range of motion, and muscle retraining. Rehabilitation may also target activities or sports specific to the patient.
- Bracing: Some individuals wear ankle braces to provide support and prevent ankle rolling. Bracing can help prevent future ankle sprains.
- Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen may be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation.
When Is Surgery Necessary?
In certain cases, surgery may be recommended by the foot and ankle surgeon, depending on the severity of instability or the lack of response to non-surgical approaches. Surgical interventions usually involve repairing or reconstructing damaged ligaments. The surgeon will choose the most suitable surgical procedure based on the extent of instability and the patient’s activity level. Recovery times vary according to the specific procedure(s) performed.
Why Opt for a Foot and Ankle Surgeon?
Foot and ankle surgeons are the foremost experts in the field of foot and ankle care. As doctors of podiatric medicine, they are board-certified surgical specialists with extensive training and education in foot and ankle conditions, including chronic ankle instability. Their rigorous education and training uniquely qualify them to perform a wide range of surgeries, including those necessary for chronic ankle instability.