When you injure your ankle, your body can often repair the damaged tissue on its own, provided that you give yourself time to rest. However, stressing or putting too much weight on an injured ankle that hasn’t healed properly can result in a condition called chronic ankle instability.
What is chronic ankle instability?
The ankle joint is made up of three bones:
- The shin bone (called the tibia)
- A thin bone that runs next to the shin (called the fibula)
- A bone that sits above the heel (called the talus)
These bones are held together by fibrous tissues known as ligaments that surround the ankle joint. The ligaments stabilize the joint, allowing you to move freely and safely. If you take an awkward step and stretch or damage the ligaments by twisting or turning your ankle, the result is a sprained ankle.
Chronic ankle instability is a condition where the outer, or lateral, side of the ankle can’t hold weight and consistently gives way. An unstable ankle can become a long-term condition when the ankle doesn’t have enough time to heal between repeated sprains or injuries.
How to prevent a sprained ankle from becoming chronic instability
An ankle sprain is a common injury that can happen to anyone, at any age. In fact, about one out of every 10,000 people in the U.S. sprains their ankle each day—and 10% of these individuals develop ankle instability.
A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments that support the ankle stretch too far and tear. The severity of a sprain can vary greatly, depending on the number of torn ligaments.
While most sprains heal with rest, ice, elevation, and over-the-counter medications, a severe sprain can weaken your ankle and make it more likely that you will injure it again. Repeated sprains can lead to long-term problems.
Sprained ankle complications may include chronic ankle instability
While ankle instability can become an issue for many reasons, repeated ankle sprains are most often to blame. As the ligaments in your ankle continue to stretch with each repeated sprain, you may find your ankle gives way during simple activities, such as walking.
When to see a doctor for an unstable ankle
People who suffer from ankle issues often wait too long to see a specialist. Without proper treatment, an ankle sprain can lead to ankle instability and, eventually, arthritis of the ankle.
It may be time to schedule an appointment with Metro Tulsa Foot & Ankle Specialists if you:
- Have turned your ankle repeatedly
- Suffer from persistent discomfort and swelling
- Complain often of pain or tenderness
- Feel unsafe or unstable when you walk
What to expect during a chronic ankle instability test
During your exam, a medical professional will ask about your history of ankle injuries and examine your ankle, checking for tender areas or swelling. The exam will also include a complete mechanical instability assessment during which the specialist will evaluate your ankle’s range of motion. Other tests may include an x-ray or an MRI scan of your ankle.
Treating chronic ankle instability
Depending on the results of your exam and tests, treatment for chronic ankle instability may include non-surgical options or ankle surgery.
In many cases, physical therapy, ankle support braces, and medications can relieve your symptoms. The medical team at Metro Tulsa Foot & Ankle Specialists can teach you how to strengthen your ankle and prevent instability.
In severe situations where you don’t respond to conservative treatments, our experts may recommend surgery. If surgical treatment for chronic ankle instability is necessary, our staff will work with you to explain the techniques we use and how quickly you are likely to recover.
Tips for preventing ankle sprains and chronic instability
The most important thing you can do to prevent chronic ankle instability is to allow yourself to rest and recover after you suffer a sprained ankle. Other steps you can take to maintain healthy, stable ankles include:
- Wear supportive shoes
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Seek medical care if you suffer an ankle injury
- Talk to one of our specialists before you resume your workout routine
- If you’re healthy enough to exercise, begin with five to 10 minutes of movement at a time
- If you experience any swelling after you exercise, apply ice
- Listen to your body
If your ankle doesn’t feel right, take a break and give yourself time to rest. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to another injury and further delay your ability to participate in the activities you enjoy.
If you have an ankle sprain or are concerned about ankle instability, schedule an appointment with Metro Tulsa Foot & Ankle Specialists today. Together, we can help ensure that your ankles are stable and strong enough to support you throughout your life.