Have you ever been walking with friends and hit a low spot? You felt your foot curl under, felt the searing pain, and just knew that you had sprained your ankle.
If you’ve not had that experience, you’re one of the lucky ones. Nearly 25,000 people of all ages sprain their ankles in the USA every day.
It’s easy to do. Whether you walk off the side of a curb, step wrong on a rustic trail, or quickly change direction while playing basketball, volleyball, or tag. It’s easy to pull and twist the ligaments in your ankle.
Your ankles are prone to strains and sprains.
Just look down at your ankles. These thin, flexible joints bear all your weight and move you from place to place. No wonder they are susceptible to injury.
When your ankle rolls outward or inward, the bones shift out of position. And supporting ligaments stretch past their normal limits. The amount of stretching relates to the amount of inflammation, swelling, and weakness you experience. Even mild or moderate sprains and strains make it difficult to walk. In a severe strain, these soft tissues connecting your bones rip and tear.
The severity of the ankle sprain can range from slight pain and tenderness to severe pain and loss of movement.
When the strain or sprain is significant, it’s vital to seek orthopedic care before returning to activity. Your orthopedic provider will make sure that the inner and outer structures of your ankle are healed enough to provide balance and handle the stresses of increased movement.
If ankle pain, weakness, or instability last longer than two weeks, call a foot and ankle specialist. Left untreated, frequent, or severe ankle sprains can damage bones and cartilage and lead to chronic ankle instability.
What is chronic ankle instability?
Each time the ankle is sprained, it stretches the ligaments, causing increasing ligamentous laxity, leading to even more instability.
People with chronic ankle instability often experience the achiness, pain, and inconvenience of repeated ankle sprains. Left untreated this can lead to arthritis, synovitis, and tendon issues.
How is ankle instability diagnosed?
Before deciding on the best treatment plan for ankle instability, an orthopedic specialist will perform a series of tests to see how severe the damage is and where the tears are found.
The diagnosis usually begins with a physical examination. The foot and ankle specialist will watch how the person walks, paying close attention to how the heel strikes the ground.
After the physical exam, the provider may order X-rays to see how the bones line up under pressure.
Since ankle instability often affects the ankle’s soft tissues, the health care provider may order magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test allows the provider to see the injuries inside the ankle.
How is chronic ankle instability treated?
Based on the results of the X-rays, MRI, and physical exam, the foot and ankle specialist may prescribe:
- Medication to reduce the pain and inflammation.
- Braces or orthotics to help support and stabilize the ankle to prevent future strains during daily-living activities.
- Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that control and move the ankle joint, improve balance, flexibility, or range-of-motion.
If a person leads an active lifestyle, the physical therapist can help strengthen the muscles needed for sports-related activities.
At times, ankle instability needs surgery to correct it.
If nonsurgical treatments do not work, surgery may be necessary to:
- tighten or rebuild the joint’s inner and outer ligaments,
- reconstruct or graft tendons, or
- realign the ankle and heel bones.
Sometimes total ankle replacement may be the best choice.
If your ankle hurts and does not seem to be improving, seek high-quality orthopedic care from a foot and ankle specialist. Each step you take toward recovery from chronic ankle instability will be a step in the right direction for an active life.
Bone & Joint’s fellowship-trained foot and ankle specialist Adam Halverson, DO, and podiatrists Thomas Staysniak, DPM, and Paul Strobel, DPM, can help you get you solidly on your feet.