What is ankle instability?

A stable ankle is critical to a person's ability to walk and run. When an ankle is sprained, the ligaments and muscles that support it can become weak. Ankle instability occurs when a person's ankle has become too weak to be reliable when walking, often after a series of sprains. A person with ankle instability may feel like their ankle will give way when on rough or uneven ground. This can make it difficult to walk, run, or participate in normal activities.

Normally, an ankle has limited movement up and down and side to side. This range of motion is protected by ligaments and bones that keep the joints responsible for these movements stable. When a person sprains their ankle, the ligaments or connective tissue that helps hold the bones together can be stretched or torn. Repetitive ankle sprain can cause the ankle to become weak and feel unstable when a person walks.

Sprained ligaments in the ankle can also cause damage to the nerve sensors that tell the brain the position of the ankle. Sensors like those found in the ankle ligaments are responsible for the brain knowing the position of your hands, arms, and other body parts, even when a person isn't paying attention to them. When these nerve sensors are damaged, it is easier for a person to misstep and cause more damage to the ankle as a result.

Treatment options for ankle instability range from special shoes to rehabilitation and surgery. In some cases, braces or shoes with high heels or special heels may be worn to help keep the ankle stable while walking. It is also possible to treat ankle instability with strengthening exercises as prescribed by a physical therapist. The exercises strengthen the ligaments and muscles on the outside of the ankle to help keep it from rolling. These exercises can also help a person regain sensation by healing nerve sensors, so they can tell where their foot is placed.

There are times when rehabilitation is not enough to treat ankle instability. In these cases, surgery may be the method of choice. During surgery, the surgeon may tighten the ligaments or graft on another ligament, usually harvested from around the little toe, to strengthen or replace the ankle ligament. In either case, surgery is usually followed by rest and rehabilitation. After rehabilitation, the patient can usually return to normal activities without experiencing ankle instability.

Go up