Because they’re so common, many people tend to shrug off an ankle sprain—by some accounts, between several hundred thousand and a few million Americans suffer at least one each year, often while playing sports.
However, you should never underestimate a sprain, and there are at least two good reasons why: first, because it may be obscuring a more serious fracture, and second, because repeated sprains that don’t heal properly can eventually lead to chronically wobbly ankles, a condition called ankle instability.
Living with Ankle Instability
The telltale sign of chronic ankle instability is a recurring problem with your ankle “giving way,” particularly on the outward side. This happens most commonly while walking, running, or playing sports, but may happen even while standing still, and often leads to another sprain.
Other symptoms may include regular pain, tenderness, swelling, stiffness, aches, or other discomfort, possibly when holding or moving your ankle in a certain manner or direction. You may also feel wobbly and unbalanced.
Why Ankles Get Wobbly
Like any joint, your ankle are supported by bands of fibrous tissue known as ligaments. When you sprain your ankle, these ligaments stretch, tear, and swell, and they need time, care, and rehabilitation to heal properly and return to full strength.
If you suffer repeated sprains, especially if you do not get them treated properly or follow through with instructions on post-treatment care and rehabilitation, the ligaments may not heal properly, or the muscles may fail to recover their pre-injury strength.
In turn, weaker, looser muscles and ligaments are less able to protect your ankle against future sprains, and with each new sprain, the ankle becomes more and more unstable as the overstretched ligaments become less and less able to hold the joint in place.
Stabilizing a Chronically Unstable Ankle
The first step in any treatment program is to fully investigate and diagnose the severity of the damage. In addition to using diagnostic tools, Dr. Danciger will ask you about your injury history, including how often you’ve experienced a sprain, your pain levels, and more.
Conservative approaches include:
- Taking a temporary break from high-risk activities that put your ankle in danger of subsequent sprains.
- Physical therapy to re-strengthen and re-train stabilizing muscles, as well as improve your sense of balance and range of motion.
- Wearing an ankle brace (especially while exercising or playing sports) to prevent the ankle from rolling and reduce the risk of further sprains.
- Switching to athletic shoes that are designed to provide extra ankle support and stability.
- Pain management medications such as OTC anti-inflammatories (like ibuprofen) or cortisone shots.
- In-office laser therapy to help reduce pain and swelling and encourage natural healing.
Occasionally, surgery to repair and reconstruct any damaged ligaments may be recommended when instability is severe or not responding to gentler treatment methods. This is considered a last resort and will need to be discussed with your doctor in order to ensure you take the necessary post-recovery steps.
Don’t let a wobbly ankle bring you down—figuratively or literally. Help is available. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Harvey Danciger at our Palm Desert, CA office, please call 760-569-0108. For your convenience, you can also request an appointment online through our website.