Ankle instability is a condition in which the ankle has a chronic sensation of weakness and constantly “gives way” during walking and other activities. Patients most often complain of re-occurring ankle sprains. This condition can occur during physical activity (walking, running, jumping) but can also occur when a patient is simply standing still. Chronic ankle instability commonly affects athletes and is often caused by a previous ankle sprain that did not heal properly. A sprained ankle tears or stretches the ligaments holding the ankle together, affecting balance, and if not treated properly, chronic ankle instability and ankle arthritis may develop.
The most common symptom of ankle instability is an unstable feeling within the ankle. Patients complain of constantly rolling their ankles. Additional symptoms that may affect the ankle may include:
- Swelling and discomfort
Some individuals with ankle instability may develop tendonitis or even partial tearing of the tendons adjacent to the ankle. This can occur with continued activity without the proper bracing needed to prevent re-occurring ankle sprains.
Ankle instability is most commonly diagnosed through physical examination. The use of x-ray and MRI’s are sometimes needed to evaluate the extent of instability.
Most cases of ankle instability are treated through conservative measures that may include:
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Ankle bracing
Patients with ankle instability who do not respond to conservative treatment (non-operative) methods usually require surgical intervention. Surgery for ankle instability involves reconstructing the damaged ligaments that cause the ankle to be unstable. Recovery from surgery varies depending on the specific procedure that is performed, but usually, patients can return to a tennis shoe in 3 weeks.