Did you know that spraining or twisting your ankle once may predispose you to multiple and recurrent ankle sprains? Unfortunately, this is true. If the injury is severe enough, a one time ankle sprain can lead to multiple and recurrent ankle injuries. This is because the ligaments that function to support your ankle have stretched, and if stretched enough, the ligaments may lose their function and cause instability within your ankle. If this stability is lost, people may experience what is called chronic ankle instability.
Chronic ankle instability is a condition in which the ligaments around your ankle become weak. Think of your ligaments as a “hair tie” or “rubber band”. If continuously stretched past their normal threshold, the “hair tie” or “rubber band” becomes too stretched out, losing their elasticity and may eventually snap or break. This concept is similar to our ankle ligaments. If continuously stretched past anatomic threshold, patients may develop weakness and instability in their ankle even during normal daily activities. Symptoms of chronic ankle instability include intermittent swelling and pain, either on the inside or outside of the ankle, during strenuous activity; however, the hallmark symptom in chronic ankle instability is feeling like your ankle is about to “give out” or that you may feel like you can easily twist your ankle at any moment, especially on uneven terrain or surfaces.
If you’re like many people who have sprained their ankle at least once in their lifetime, I’m sure you’re asking how can chronic ankle instability be prevented? The easiest thing anyone can do to prevent a one-time ankle sprain in becoming something chronic and recurrent is through bracing and physical therapy. Ankle bracing is beneficial after the initial injury to support the ligaments while they heal and recover. Following this period of rest, physical therapy focuses on strengthening the ligaments, which were injured in order to regain stability and proprioception, but also prevent future injury. Studies have shown physical therapy and rehabilitation to be an extremely effective method for prevention of chronic ankle instability and return to pre-injury activity.
If a patient does not respond well to bracing and physical therapy, chronic ankle instability can be addressed surgically. This surgery involves cleaning out the ankle joint through arthroscopy and repairing or retightening the injured ligament or ligaments, in order to regain stabilization of the ankle. The post-operative course typically consists of approximately 2-3 weeks in a cast, followed by 2-4 weeks in a boot with initiating physical therapy as soon as possible; most patients return to normal pre-injury activity within 1-2 months.
If you have sprained your ankle at least once and are still feeling weak or have not yet fully recovered, schedule an appointment with our foot and ankle specialists today and help prevent any future ankle injury tomorrow!