Rogers Foot & Ankle Institute

Dealing With Chronic Ankle Instability: Tips And Tricks

May 25, 2023
Dealing With Chronic Ankle Instability: Tips And Tricks
If you’ve ever suffered from chronic ankle instability, then you know just how difficult life can be. From the persistent pain and discomfort to the relentless instability and lack of mobility, it’s hard to carry out even day-to-day activities.....

If you’ve ever suffered from chronic ankle instability, then you know just how difficult life can be. From the persistent pain and discomfort to the relentless instability and lack of mobility, it’s hard to carry out even day-to-day activities and work without feeling your ankles screaming in agony. But the good news is, there’s hope! With the right strategies and tips, you can find relief and lead a more pain-free and active life.

What Is Chronic Ankle Instability?

Chronic Ankle Instability (CAI) is a lower-limb injury that involves instability in the ankle joint. It frequently results in recurrent sprains and a lack of ankle control, leading to further health complications. CAI often leads to pain, reduced mobility, muscle weakness, difficulties with balance and coordination, time away from physical activities, and higher health care costs associated with treatment.

While CAI has often been thought of as an athlete’s injury resulting from acute trauma such as a sudden fall or impact, some researchers believe that heavy physical activity is not necessarily the sole culprit for developing CAI. Instead, they propose a multifactor hypothesis involving proprioception, muscular strength, mobility, and flexibility issues that may contribute to CAI.

On the one hand, low levels of proprioception can provide inadequate information to the nervous system about the joint’s position in space, which results in inaccurate movement and poor stabilization of weight-bearing joints like the ankle; on the other hand, tight muscles can also disrupt the dynamic stability of the ankle joint by limiting the range of motion and creating more chances for injury.

Although there are variables that can influence the risk of developing an unstable ankle, one thing remains clear: successful prevention or rehabilitation methods heavily rely on identifying these root causes before implementing any basic treatments or plans of care.

Causes And Risk Factors For Chronic Ankle Instability

A disruption of the stabilizing structures in and around the ankle causes chronic ankle instability, which results in poor balance, weakened muscles, and weakened ligaments. Common causes include past injuries such as sprains and fractures that damage the soft tissues, muscle weakness or tightness that affects balance, and repetitive stress caused by certain activities and sports. Poor form during exercise can also be a cause, as can wearing ill-fitting shoes.

Risk factors for chronic ankle instability include lower limb joint hypermobility, a previous history of ankle sprains, age (young and elderly people are more prone to ankle sprains), playing on hard surfaces, playing competitively, and running long distances.

It is also important to consider that people with certain medical conditions, such as Down syndrome or other syndromes that cause poor coordination, may have chronic ankle instability due to their underlying condition. When it comes to treating chronic ankle instability, prevention is key. Understanding the risk factors behind it can help those affected avoid situations that increase the chance of another injury and allow them to implement preventative measures into their routine.

Tips For Preventing Chronic Ankle Instability

Repetitive ankle sprains can result in chronic ankle instability, as mentioned. To prevent the progression of this condition, it is important to understand proper technique and muscle activation during physical activity. 

Additionally, building up the strength and balance demands of a chosen activity can help reduce the chances of an ankle sprain. While there is evidence to support prophylactic external bracing that may reduce the risk of strain or sprain:

  1. Some clinicians argue that overusing braces may lead to muscular imbalances and decrease an individual’s tibial control and strength.
  2. As such, building up the proprioceptive and neuromuscular strength of the lower leg muscles seems more advisable compared to prophylactic bracing for preventing chronic ankle instability.

In conclusion, it is important to understand the causes and risk factors associated with chronic ankle instability in order to adopt preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing this condition. 

Fortunately, there are a variety of strategies available to improve balance and kinesthetic control as well as appropriately strengthen the lower leg musculature, all of which can help prevent chronic ankle instability.

Appropriate Physical Activities And Sports Training

Physical activity and sports training can be a great way to strengthen the muscles and ligaments surrounding the ankle, reducing the risk of chronic ankle instability. Many athletes with chronic ankle instability participate in sports without problems, but finding the proper type, intensity, and progression of activities is key. With this in mind, someone experiencing or at risk of chronic ankle instability should consult with an appropriate medical professional before engaging in any physical activities or sports training.

On the one hand, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise such as walking, running, and playing games like basketball can help keep an individual’s ankles healthy and strong while still avoiding activity that places too much strain on weakened tissues. On the other hand, high-impact activities such as certain running drills, burpees, and box jumps are more likely to cause damage to weakened ligaments and should be avoided or done with extreme caution. To reduce the likelihood of injury or pain during physical activity, it is recommended that people with chronic ankle instability use some form of external support, such as low-cut braces or compression socks.

When embarking on any kind of physical activity or sports training program and dealing with chronic ankle instability, consistency is paramount to achieving long-term success. A gradual increase in difficulty with exercises performed regularly (3 days per week) will help build strength and stability over time. Finally, ensuring adequate rest between workouts is essential for allowing damaged tissue to heal and properly repair itself through loading cycles before progressing further into higher levels of performance.

By balancing protective measures with progressive exercises and suitable rest periods, individuals living with chronic ankle instability can find ways to incorporate physical activities and sports training into their lives without exposing themselves to excessive risk of re-injury.

Treatments For Chronic Ankle Instability

Treatments for Chronic Ankle Instability vary from person to person but generally encompass three categories: conservative treatments, physical therapy modalities, and surgical interventions. In the majority of cases, conservative treatment proves to be the most successful in managing chronic instability. Conservative options may include taping or bracing the ankle to provide additional stability, as well as exercises or stretches to improve strength and range of motion. Orthotics may also be prescribed in some cases to reduce abnormal foot mechanics that are contributing to instability. Although each case varies, prompt diagnosis and conservative treatments such as these are often more effective than surgery in preventing the need to go down that route.

Physical therapy modalities may also be beneficial in managing chronic ankle instability. A physical therapist is knowledgeable about assessing musculoskeletal structures and can recommend specific exercises tailored to strengthen weaknesses in certain areas of the body. He or she can also provide manual therapy techniques such as stretching, soft tissue massage, and joint mobilization to improve the range of motion and decrease pain levels. Along with prescribing an individualized home exercise program to maintain mobility gains made during each physical therapy session, a physical therapist can also offer advice on how to prevent reinjury through proper technique and mechanics of everyday activities.

Surgical intervention for chronic ankle instability is less common compared with other knee and ankle conditions, but it has been known to resolve symptoms when used correctly in certain cases. Surgical treatments typically involve procedures including arthrodesis (fusion), arthroplasty (joint replacement), ligament reconstruction, tendon transfer, joint debridement, and other reconstructive methods. Before considering any of these drastic measures, however, one should always consult with a physician regarding all available conservative options.

With so many treatment options available for people suffering from chronic ankle instability, healthcare professionals and their patients alike need to take advantage of the broad spectrum of strategies available for the management of this condition. As such, an important part of achieving success lies in understanding which combination of treatments will best fit each person’s needs—whether it be conservative therapies, physical therapy modalities, or multiple surgeries depending on severity—so individuals can find their path towards a pain-free life. Fortunately, with so many outlets available today at our fingertips, quality information on addressing chronic ankle instability issues is easier than ever to find; however, professional guidance by an experienced healthcare specialist is always recommended when guiding someone through this process. 

Conservative And Non-Surgical Options

When dealing with chronic ankle instability, there are many non-surgical and conservative treatments available to help strengthen the muscles around the ankle and stabilize the joint. Physical therapy can be used to improve the range of motion, balance, and strength of the ankle. Exercises may include muscle-strengthening and stretching, balance activities, proprioception (sensory awareness) exercises, and gait training. If a patient isn’t sure how to do these exercises on their own, a physical therapist can help design an effective program specific to their needs.

Bracing may also be beneficial, as it reduces pain by providing additional support for the weakened ankle ligaments. Certain taping techniques can provide additional stability during physical activity. An Aircast boot or a removable walking cast may be used during recovery after injury or surgery to immobilize the ankle and reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen may provide temporary relief from pain as well.

Although these conservative and non-surgical options have all been effective in treating chronic ankle instability in some people, each case is unique and necessitates a thorough evaluation by medical professionals before making any decisions about treatment strategies. 

It is important to explore all available options to find which methods will work best for any given situation.

By taking steps toward managing chronic ankle instability with non-surgical treatments, sufferers may feel more confident moving forward in their journey toward living a more active life without pain. As they take small steps to gain greater strength and stability in their ankles through conservative therapy, they can start to build healthy habits that can help them reach their goal of leading a more fulfilling life free of ankle pain.

Top Chronic Ankle Instability Specialists In Saratoga Springs, UT 

At Rogers Foot & Ankle Institute in Saratoga Springs, UT, our team is committed to assisting you in discovering your confident stride in life. Our specialists are highly knowledgeable in all aspects of foot and ankle health, and we are confident that we can help you overcome chronic instability and improve your overall quality of life.

By allowing our ankle specialists to perform a physical exam and develop a customized treatment plan, you can look forward to finding relief from chronic pain and severe swelling resulting from repeated sprains. We are committed to assisting all of our patients in taking charge of their foot and ankle health, allowing them to resume the activities they love.

If you have been experiencing recurring and frequent sprains in your ankle, you can find relief by contacting Rogers Foot & Ankle Institute. You can be sure that our skilled and knowledgeable doctors will take care of your foot and ankle conditions effectively and efficiently. Reach out to Rogers Foot & Ankle Institute at 801-756-4200 to schedule an appointment and start on the path to recovery.