Chronic ankle instability can leave you feeling weak on your feet. You may feel unsteady, or like you might fall over at any moment. If you constantly “roll” your ankle, or feel like your feet might give way underneath you, and problem persists for a long time, it can be very frustrating and prevent you from living your life to the fullest. The condition can be improved, however—and not just with surgery. There are many different approaches that we can take to treat an unstable ankle.

What Causes Chronic Ankle Instability?

The main cause of this condition is spraining your ankle, or spraining it multiple times. For this reason, athletes and people who are very physically active are at a higher risk of developing it. When a sprain doesn’t heal properly it can result in weakened ankle ligaments and tendons that cause pain, tenderness, weakness, instability, or a joint that turns or rolls sideways when you are walking or standing.  

Treating Ankle Instability

Fortunately, many cases of weak ankles are treated with conservative therapies. Physical therapy is where most people start with treatment. The point of physical therapy for ankles is to strengthen the muscles, increase range of motion, improve balance, and retrain your muscles. If you happen to be athletic or play a sport you will undergo physical therapy that is specific to your activity.

You may also be required to wear an ankle brace during this time. The brace’s job is to keep your ankle supported and prevent it from turning when you walk. It will also prevent any future ankle sprains, which is necessary for full healing to take place.

If you are in pain your doctor may also prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (such as Ibuprofen). This will not only decrease your pain, but will also prevent swelling and inflammation as well.

Surgical Treatment for Ankle Instability

There are certain cases where these conservative treatments don’t work. In these instances it may be recommended that you undergo surgery to fix your ankle instability. The point of surgery is to repair and reconstruct your damaged ligaments.

There are different approaches to surgery that may be considered by your doctor. One type of surgery involves shortening and tightening the ankle ligaments. A second option involves removing a tendon from the lower leg and using it as an outer ligament in the ankle.

Even with surgery, you will likely be doing physical therapy, too. It’s really important to build up your muscles post-surgery. The operation will be pointless if you don’t heal properly and get your ankle back to its full strength. If you are patient and follow all the recommendations given, you should be back on your feet and able to do the things you enjoy—even sports.

Dr. Peyman A. Elison
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Founder and Managing Partner of Fixing Feet Institute

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