Lateral Ankle Instability: New Procedures Can Help

Ankle injuries are common among athletes, especially those who regularly engage in high-impact sports. Lateral ankle instability is one of the most prevalent ankle injuries, affecting many athletes who participate in sports such as basketball, volleyball, and soccer. It’s a condition that results from repeated ankle sprains or a single severe sprain that causes damage to the lateral ligaments of the ankle. We’ve written this article to provide you with a comprehensive overview of lateral ankle instability, its symptoms, and how best to treat the condition.

Understanding Lateral Ankle Instability

Lateral ankle instability is a condition that occurs when the lateral ligaments of the ankle are damaged or stretched beyond their normal range of motion. These ligaments include the anterior talofibular ligament, the calcaneofibular ligament, and the posterior talofibular ligament. The anterior talofibular ligament is the most commonly injured ligament in lateral ankle instability.

An ankle sprain is the most common cause of lateral ankle instability. A sprain involves the stretching or tearing of the ligaments that support the ankle joint. When the ankle twists or turns too far, the ligaments can become damaged or stretched, causing pain, swelling, and instability. If the ligaments do not heal properly, the ankle can remain unstable, making it prone to further injury.

Image by Esther Max is licensed with CC BY 2.0

Symptoms of Lateral Ankle Instability

The symptoms of lateral ankle instability can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some people may experience mild symptoms, while others may have more severe problems. Common symptoms of lateral ankle instability include:

Pain

Pain is one of the most common symptoms of lateral ankle instability. The pain is typically felt on the outside of the ankle and can range from mild to severe. The pain may be constant or intermittent, depending on the severity of the condition. Pain may be felt during physical activity or when the ankle is under stress, such as during walking or running. In some cases, the pain may be severe enough to limit activity.

Swelling

Swelling is another common symptom. The swelling is typically located on the outside of the ankle and can range from mild to severe. The swelling may be present immediately after an injury or develop over time. Swelling that occurs in the ankle may be accompanied by pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving the ankle joint.

Instability

Instability is a classic sign of lateral ankle instability. The ankle may feel unstable or wobbly, and there may be a sensation of the ankle giving way. This instability is caused by damage to the ligaments that support the ankle joint. Instability can be especially noticeable during physical activity or when walking on uneven surfaces.

Stiffness

Stiffness is another common symptom. The ankle may feel stiff or tight, and there may be a decreased range of motion in the ankle joint. Stiffness may be more pronounced in the morning or after prolonged periods of rest.

Weakness

With lateral ankle instability, the ankle may feel weak or unable to support weight, and there may be a sensation of the ankle giving way. This weakness can be especially noticeable during physical activity or when walking on uneven surfaces.

Difficulty Walking

Difficulty walking is another symptom of lateral ankle instability. The ankle may feel unstable or wobbly, making it difficult to walk or perform other activities. In some cases, the pain may be severe enough to limit mobility.

How We Diagnose Lateral Ankle Instability

To diagnose lateral ankle instability, we will perform a physical examination and take your medical history. We also ask questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing, such as when you first started experiencing pain or discomfort and what makes your symptoms worse. We may also order imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds, to assess the severity of the injury.

Treatment for Lateral Ankle Instability

How we treat your lateral ankle instability will depend on the severity of the injury. Mild cases of ankle instability can often be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy. This involves resting the ankle, applying ice to reduce any swelling, compressing the ankle with a bandage or brace, and elevating the affected limb above the heart.

We may also recommend following a program of physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles around your ankle and improve your range of motion. This may include exercises such as ankle rotations, calf raises, and balance training. In more severe cases of ankle instability, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged ligaments or reconstruct the ankle joint.

Preventing Lateral Ankle Instability

Preventing lateral ankle instability involves taking steps to reduce the risk of ankle sprains. Such steps can include the following:

  • Wearing appropriate footwear: Shoes with good ankle support and traction can help prevent ankle sprains.
  • Stretching and warming up: Stretching the muscles in the ankle and warming up before exercising can help reduce the risk of injury.
  • Strengthening exercises: Exercises that target the muscles around the ankle can help improve stability and prevent ankle sprains.
  • Using ankle braces or supports: Ankle braces or supports can provide additional stability and support to the ankle during activities.
  • Avoiding uneven surfaces: Being cautious when walking on rocky or uneven terrain and avoiding activities that involve sudden changes in direction can help reduce the risk of tripping over and sustaining an ankle injury.

Lateral ankle instability is a common condition that can be caused by a single traumatic injury or repeated ankle sprains. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, instability, stiffness, weakness, and difficulty walking. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the condition and may include rest, ice, compression, elevation, physical therapy, braces or casts, or surgery. Preventing lateral ankle instability is important for maintaining overall ankle health and avoiding future injury. With proper treatment and care, most people with lateral ankle instability can return to their normal activities without pain or discomfort.

Contact Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Associates Today!

If you’re suffering from ankle instability in the Chicagoland area, Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Associates can help. Get in touch with Dr. Bever and Dr. Schoene today to get a thorough evaluation today to discover the treatment plan that’s right for you.