What is Ankle Instability?

When most people sprain their ankle, they make a slow but sure recovery over the course of a few months to return to normal activity. Sometimes, ankles do not return to normal and recurrent ankle sprains occur. This can be so frequent that it occurs several times every day. This is associated with pain, swelling and an inability to take part in normal day to day activities and sport, with loss of confidence.

Sprains normally result in stretching of a ligament, but the ligament remains in continuity. If the ligament is torn, it may join together with scar tissue. If the ligament/scar tissue is stretched enough, it is unable to prevent excessive movement of the ankle joint and the feeling of instability ensues. Often, patients have spasm of muscles on the outer side of the ankle as they attempt to compensate for the excessive movement by pulling hard with a tendon.

In about a quarter of cases, recurrent sprains are not due to ligament injury, but damage within the ankle joint. This can lead to pain and swelling and sudden pain can lead to giving way of the ankle. 

If you have ankle instability, it is best to see an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in foot and ankle surgery. You should have x-rays taken in a standing position. Sometimes this can demonstrate damage inside the joint, but often an MRI scan is performed to demonstrate damage to ligaments and to the surface of the joint.

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