One Ankle Sprain Too Many

Ankle sprains are relatively common, with an estimated 2 million injuries occurring in America every year. Sprains are even more common in athletes, with at least 40 -45% of all injuries ankle-related. A sprained ankle is a minor injury that happens when there is a twist, roll, or turn in an unconventional way. This stretch of the area can strain or tear the ligaments responsible for keeping the ankle in place. Constant sprains can cause long-term instability and, in some cases, require surgery.

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Signs of chronic instability

Continuous sprains on the same foot can lead to chronic ankle instability, especially without proper recovery. Here are some common signs that may point to ankle instability:

  • Chronic pain and stiffness in the area
  • Continuous pain on the outer ankle
  • Repeated sprains with minimal contact
  • Swelling that may come and go based on the activity

Doctors can help determine instability by first looking at the patient’s medical history. Other physical exams or x-rays of the ankle can reveal swelling and tenderness. These examinations would provide insight and help determine ways to stabilize the joint.

Keep walking with non-surgical options

There are ways to repair the ankle of minor issues before going under the knife. First, doctors may recommend physical therapy, which involves exercises that improve balance or retrain the injured muscle. For athletes, this may include specific techniques that will help with the particular sport. Bracing is another method as this allows the ankle to rest and relieves tension to aid in recovery. Lastly, help is available in the form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen. Over time, one or more of these methods can help prevent chronically unstable ankles.

Turning to stabilization surgery

Surgery for ankle sprains is only recommended if non-surgical options fail if the ligament damage is severe. There are 2 main categories surgeons will consider, namely anatomic ligament repair or non-anatomic ankle ligament reconstruction. The latter usually is reserved for more extensive damage. A stabilization operation involves the repair and rebuilding of the damaged ligaments. First, a small cut is made over the torn ligaments of the lateral (outer) ankle. Then, the worn or torn ligaments are repaired with appropriate tension to restore function.

Stronger together

There are some instances where the 2 surgeries can combine to achieve better results. For example, there could be a severely damaged ligament causing frequent sprains and instability. The surgeon will look to reconstruct the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) or the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL). Patients have a high success rate for these surgical methods thanks to minimally invasive means.

Preventing another sprain with proper care

After the surgery, the ankle goes into a splint. Surgeons recommend placing little to no weight on the leg. The splint is upgraded to a removable boot, and after the second week, the road to recovery begins. Physical therapy takes place a few weeks after surgery. Patients typically recover between 4-5 months at a minimum and return to daily activities with little to no pain. Physical therapy, warm-ups, and strengthening exercises well beyond recovery can prevent another instability diagnosis.

Get stability in your life

Contact a doctor if the pain, swelling, or any other symptoms continue after repeated sprains. More importantly, if sprains are happening easily, there could be a sign of instability. For chronic ankle instability, there are non-surgical options available. However, if all else fails, surgical methods like stabilization surgery can have patients walking in no time.

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