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What is Ankle Instability?

The joints of the ankle are held in place and stabilized by strong bands of tissue called ligaments. Ankle instability is a chronic condition characterized by a recurrent slipping of the outer side of the ankle. It usually results from repeated ankle sprains, which are injuries to the ligaments. Ankle instability is generally noticed when you move your ankle joint but can also occur while standing.

What Causes Ankle Instability?

Repetitive injury of the ankle ligaments on the same side is the most common cause of ankle instability. Inadequate healing of the sprained ligament or incomplete rehabilitation of the affected ligament can also result in ankle instability.

What are the Symptoms of Ankle Instability?

The most common symptoms associated with ankle instability include:

  • Pain in the ankle joint
  • Swelling and tenderness of the ankle
  • Persistent discomfort and instability
  • Giving way of the ankle while walking on uneven surfaces or during a sporting activity

How is Ankle Instability Diagnosed?

A complete medical history, including a history of any previous ankle injuries, and a physical examination is essential for an accurate diagnosis of the condition. An X-ray and other imaging tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and further evaluate the injury.

How is Ankle Instability Treated?

The management of ankle instability depends on the findings of the physical examination and your level of activity.

Conservative treatment

Conservative treatment for ankle instability includes:

  • Physical therapy for improving the strength, balance, and range of motion of the joint
  • Bracing to support the affected ankle and prevent further sprain
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce the pain and inflammation

Surgical treatment

Surgery is recommended in patients with a high degree of instability and in those who have failed to respond to non-surgical treatment. Commonly used surgical procedures involve repair or reconstruction of the damaged ligament.

  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • American Association for Hand Surgery
  • American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • The American Board of Pediatrics
  • North American Spine Society
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