Picture a chair with one crooked leg. The leg is shorter than the others, wobbly, and tends to tilt inward at the bottom. Would you trust this chair to hold a heavy, delicate object? Probably not, since you can’t be sure the unstable limb will hold the weight. That is the same challenge your ankles face when you struggle with chronic ankle instability.
One Loose Joint
Chronic ankle instability is a long-term weakness in the supporting ligaments on the outside of your ankle. This makes your foot prone to “giving out” and twisting when you walk or do something strenuous. Typically this is the result of recurring sprains in a single foot, or a complication that arises when a sprain doesn’t heal correctly.
The ligaments become over-stretched or torn and never quite recover. Because they aren’t up to their full strength, the connectors are not able to keep your ankle stable under pressure, which can cause additional injuries that compound the problem. Athletes are particularly prone to this, since the strain of their activities increases their risk for sprains.
Feeling the Pressure
In addition to making you more prone to joint injuries, the condition is uncomfortable—usually the weakness is accompanied by chronic ankle pain. You may have persistent aches in the joint. Sometimes swelling lasts for a while as well. The joint may feel stiff when you try to use it and be tender to the touch. Stepping on uneven ground, twisting your foot suddenly, and even wearing high heels may cause the outside of the ankle to give out and collapse uncomfortably underneath you. Eventually the condition can lead to arthritis.
Supporting Your Ankles
Conservative methods are always the first choice for treatment, and they can make a significant difference in relieving your discomfort and stabilizing the lower limbs. Our expert podiatrists at Martin Foot and Ankle will need to evaluate the affected joint carefully to understand the extent of the problem and all the structures affected by it. This will mean performing tests to check your ankle instability and using diagnostic images to check for bone damage. Then we can help you begin therapy to improve your condition.
Immobilizing, or at least supporting, the ankle so that it doesn’t twist unnaturally when you’re active can help prevent repeated injuries. Braces work well for this. Changing your shoes or wearing custom orthotics may help stabilize the whole foot as well. The most important step, though, will be physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that support the outside of the ankle. Gentle stretches, exercises, and balance techniques help build the strength and durability of the supporting structures, so they can control the joint again. When the ankle aches, ice the area to decrease the irritation and swelling. We may also recommend medication to help with this and to manage the pain. If your ankles are too unstable, you may need surgery to repair or reconstruct the damaged ligaments.
Chronic ankle instability is painful and limits your ability to participate in many activities. You don’t have to let it keep you from the things you love to do, though. Let our podiatry team at Martin Foot and Ankle help restore this important joint. Call (717) 757-3537 to reach any of our locations in Hanover, Lancaster, Lititz, and York, PA. You can also submit a request through our website.