Ankle Sprains

What’s Chronic Ankle Instability?

Chronic ankle instability is a condition characterized by recurring, often long-term ankle sprains or a persistent feeling of instability in the ankle joint. It typically occurs after an initial ankle sprain or injury that doesn’t fully heal or is not properly rehabilitated.

This condition can be quite bothersome and may lead to ongoing pain, weakness, and a higher risk of future ankle injuries.

Dr. Ryan M. Sherick at the Apex Foot & Ankle Institute in Thousand Oaks, California is an ankle sprain, and ankle instability expert who provides his patients with the most innovative ankle sprain non-surgical and surgical treatments available.

Chronic Ankle Instability can be categorized into two main types:
Functional Ankle Instability: This type is characterized by a feeling of giving way or instability in the ankle, even if there is no structural damage to the joint. People with functional ankle instability often have recurrent sprains, difficulty with balance, and may experience chronic discomfort.
Mechanical Ankle Instability: This type is associated with structural damage to the ligaments or joint, often as a result of repeated ankle sprains. It may involve stretched or torn ligaments, joint capsule damage, or other structural issues that make the ankle more susceptible to instability.

Symptoms and Treatment of Chronic Ankle Instability

The main symptoms of chronic ankle instability may include:
Frequent ankle sprains or episodes of the ankle “giving way.”
Pain or discomfort in the ankle.
Swelling and stiffness.
Weakness in the ankle, especially when trying to support the body’s weight.
Difficulty with balance and proprioception (awareness of the ankle’s position in space).
Treatment for chronic ankle instability may involve a combination of the following:
Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can help you improve strength, balance, and proprioception, which are essential for ankle stability.
Bracing: Ankle braces or supports may be recommended to provide extra stability and prevent further injuries.
Rehabilitation Exercises: Specific exercises and stretches can help strengthen the ankle and improve its range of motion.
Footwear Modifications: Choosing appropriate footwear with good ankle support can help reduce the risk of further instability.
Orthotics: Custom orthotic devices can be used to provide better arch support and improve gait mechanics.
Surgery: In cases of severe structural damage, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair damaged ligaments or stabilize the ankle joint.

It’s essential to consult a healthcare professional, such as an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist or a sports medicine physician, if you suspect you have chronic ankle instability. Dr. Ryan M. Sherick at Apex Foot & Ankle Institute in Thousand Oaks, California can evaluate your condition and recommend an appropriate treatment plan to help you regain ankle stability and reduce the risk of future injuries.

Causes of Chronic Ankle Instability

Chronic ankle instability can be attributed to various factors, primarily stemming from a history of ankle sprains or injuries. The most common cause is an inadequately rehabilitated initial ankle sprain, where the damaged ligaments and joint structures do not fully heal or regain their strength and stability. Repeated ankle sprains further weaken the ligaments, potentially leading to chronic instability. Other contributing factors include anatomical variations, such as naturally loose ligaments, which make the ankle more susceptible to injury and instability. Additionally, muscle weakness, especially in the muscles responsible for ankle support and balance, can play a crucial role in chronic ankle instability. Poor proprioception, the body’s awareness of the ankle’s position in space, can further exacerbate the problem, making it challenging to maintain balance and stability. Understanding the underlying causes is crucial for developing effective treatment strategies to address chronic ankle instability and prevent future complications.

Diagnosing Chronic Ankle Instability

Diagnosing chronic ankle instability typically involves a thorough clinical evaluation, including a patient’s medical history and a physical examination to assess symptoms, joint laxity, and functional deficits. Imaging studies like X-rays or MRI scans may be used to identify structural abnormalities. Functional assessments, such as balance and proprioception tests, help determine the severity of the condition. This comprehensive approach aids in accurately diagnosing chronic ankle instability and tailoring appropriate treatment strategies.

Non-Surgical Chronic Ankle Instability Treatment

Non-surgical treatments for chronic ankle instability focus on addressing the condition through conservative means, avoiding the need for surgery. These approaches include:

Physical Therapy: Tailored exercises and stretches to strengthen ankle muscles, enhance balance, and improve proprioception, helping stabilize the joint.
Bracing and Support: The use of ankle braces or supports to provide added stability and minimize the risk of further injury.
Rehabilitation Programs: Targeted rehabilitation plans aimed at restoring ankle function and reducing pain.
Footwear Considerations: Wearing supportive footwear to bolster ankle stability.
Orthotic Devices: Custom orthotics to improve arch support and gait mechanics, aiding in ankle stability. These non-surgical methods, when applied appropriately, can effectively manage chronic ankle instability and prevent the need for more invasive measures like surgery.

Surgical Treatment for Ankle Instability Including Minimally Invasive Ankle Surgical Repair Options

Surgical treatment for ankle instability is typically considered when non-surgical approaches, such as physical therapy and bracing, prove ineffective, or when there is severe structural damage to the ankle joint. One common surgical procedure is ankle ligament reconstruction, where damaged or torn ligaments are repaired or replaced. In some cases, a surgical procedure called ankle arthroscopy may be used to assess and treat joint damage.

The ultimate goal of surgical intervention for ankle sprains is to restore stability, improve joint function, and reduce the risk of recurrent ankle sprains and ultimately arthritis risk. Successful surgery can help individuals regain their active lifestyles and enjoy a pain-free, stable ankle joint. Contact Dr. Ryan Sherick the best foot and ankle sports medicine specialist in Southern California and Westlake Village + surrounding areas.