Chronic Ankle Instability
Your ankle joints require an incredible amount of strength and coordination to keep you standing, walking, running, and jumping safely. Unfortunately, after a series of injuries (or an isolated, really bad one), you may find your ankles don’t quite seem to provide the stability you’re accustomed to.
This condition, called chronic ankle instability, is marked by frequent turning, “giving way,” or feelings of wobbliness on the outside of the ankle.
Symptoms and Complications
In addition to feeling unsteady on your feet, chronic ankle instability may present alongside additional symptoms, such as
- Pain, which can range from a constant dull ache to sharp pangs along the outside of the ankle
- Swelling, tenderness, and/or stiffness in the joint
- Difficulty walking, especially on uneven ground
Having unstable ankles greatly increase your risk of suffering ankle sprains and losing your balance. Without treatment, symptoms generally continue to worsen and reduce your mobility and quality of life. It can also contribute to an early onset of arthritis.
Why Ankles Become Unstable
Chronic ankle instability is a common complication of ankle sprains. These are among the most common lower body injuries with more than 3 million estimated cases per year in the United States alone.
In an ankle sprain, the connective tissues that support the joint—known as ligaments—are stretched or torn. Unless the sprain is serious, most people recover within a few weeks without too much incident.
However, if proper treatment and rehabilitation are not pursued, the ligaments and muscles supporting the joint may not completely recover to their previous level of strength and mobility. Subsequent sprains stretch, tear, and weaken the connective tissues further, leading to even more wobbliness and instability.
Conservative Options for Ankle Instability
Non-surgical remedies are always the first choice when treating chronic ankle instability. After making a full diagnosis and evaluation, our team of specialists will help you put together an appropriate treatment course.
Common measures include:
- Physical therapy. We’ll guide you through exercises to help you rehab your ankle. Most of these you can perform at home, although we can also provide a referral for a physical therapist if necessary. Exercises are focused on helping you rebuild strength in your supporting muscles, regain flexibility and range of motion in the joint, and improve your sense of proprioception and balance.
- External supports may be recommended in combination with physical therapy or on their own. They will help prevent the ankle from turning and reduce the likelihood of additional sprains.
- Pain medications may be prescribed or provided when appropriate to help temporarily manage discomfort.
Surgical Repair for Ankle Instability
If weakness and instability in the ankle is severe, and conservative options have either failed or are determined unlikely to succeed, surgical treatment may be considered. Surgery is typically performed out-patient under general or regional anesthesia.
The goal of surgery is to restore normal function to the ankle while eliminating any discomfort or feelings of instability. The techniques and procedures used may vary depending on the location and severity of the ligament damage, and can involve arthroscopy, repair, reconstruction, or grafting.
Recovery times also vary depending on the condition and procedure. Typically, patients are in a splint for at least two weeks, and it may take up to six weeks before any weight-bearing activity can be performed. Gradually, as your ankle gains strength and rehab continues to progress, you can return to more vigorous athletic activity. Full recovery time is usually between six months and one year.
Get Your Stability Back
Chronic ankle instability can be painful, frustrating, even frightening, but it doesn’t have to be permanent, and you shouldn’t wait for the problem to become unbearable before doing something about it. The earlier you give our office a call for an examination, the broader the range of effective treatment options you’re likely to have.
Request an appointment with Southern California Foot & Ankle Specialists online, or give us a call today at (949) 364-9255.