Chronic Ankle Instability

Feb 9, 2022 | Blog

Chronic ankle instability is an extremely common and often debilitating problem amongst those in the sporting world. In fact, acute ankle sprain is one of the most commonly reported injuries in all levels of sports, and even though it’s “just a sprain”, it’s not an innocuous injury. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 30% of individuals will develop some level of chronic ankle instability after the initial lateral ankle sprain occurs. Over time, this can lead to higher levels of recurrent injury, chronic pain, and decreased physical activity.

This type of chronic injury can be the result of multiple moderate ankle sprains or a singular severe sprain. Chronic ankle instability can lead to additional ankle sprains as well as other, secondary conditions like arthritis and/or tendon tearing. Many times the instability is made worse because the initial injury was never treated properly. RICE therapy (Rest, Ice, Elevation, Compression) is a great first start, proper bracing, physical therapy, and sometimes even surgery, are also needed to ensure a complete recovery.

When it comes to ankle sprains and chronic ankle instability, the American Medical Association uses a generalized scale based on the degree of ligamentous injury. The scale is as follows:

  • Grade I – Ligament stretched
  • Grade II – Ligament partially torn
  • Grade III – Ligament completely torn

Patients who suffer from chronic ankle instability relate a variety of symptoms, ranging from swelling and pain to simply a feeling that the joint itself is unstable. However, the description that seems to be most common is a feeling of chronic aching along the lateral (outside) aspect of the ankle with any type of extended activity, such as walking or running. Sometimes, patients may even experience a “grinding” sensation within the joint.

Regardless of the type of ankle injury that your orthopaedic surgeon suspects, x-rays will most likely be taken to ensure that there are no bone lesions, spurs, or fractures present in or around the ankle(s). However, x-rays aren’t much help when it comes to assessing soft tissue (ligament and tendon) damage, which is why an MRI may be necessary as well.

Depending upon the severity of the injury and how long ago it occurred, there are different courses of treatment available, ranging from non-surgical to surgical in nature. This is something that is decided on a case by case basis, since every patient, and every injury, is different.

If you’re suffering from ankle pain, instability, or a recent injury, please don’t wait to seek treatment– Nebraska Orthopaedic Center is here to help!