Ankle not healing? Chronic ankle instability
Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries. Rest, ice, compression and elevation, or the RICE rule, are the go-tos for ankle sprains. In most cases, the ankle will heal between 4-12 weeks. Many people will allow the ankle to heal on its own but a failure to seek treatment and physical rehabilitation for the ankle after just one injury is enough to leave it weaker and more vulnerable to future sprains. Which in turn could result in chronic ankle instability.
What causes ankle instability?
After an ankle injury, there is damage to the ligaments, tendons, and potentially even the ankle joint itself. Ligaments function to limit the normal movement in the ankle, and once they are injured, they may get lax (stretched out). Resulting in the ankle being more unstable. Additionally, the injury results in a loss of strength in the muscles that control the ankle movement, further increasing the instability of the ankle. Finally, it also results in a loss of sensory receptors in the ankle that communicate to our brain where our ankle is in space. This decreased sensation makes it harder to balance and control the ankle which contributes to the ankle instability.
How do I know if I have chronic ankle instability?
Questions to ask yourself include:
- Does my ankle ever give out?
- Do I avoid walking on uneven surfaces out of fear of falling?
- Do I feel like I can’t “trust” the ankle?
- Do I try to avoid putting all my weight onto one ankle?
If you said yes to these questions and you have had a severe ankle injury or a history of multiple ankle sprains, you may have chronic ankle instability.
Is it permanent?
Chronic ankle instability is not permanent it can improve with the help of a physical therapist and individualize exercise plan. An untreated ankle injury may be chronic when it is not given sufficient time to heal and is constantly being reaggravated. Thus, the first step to treatment will be a proper rehabilitation program with a health professional.
Who treats ankle instability?
Physical therapists are the first step in conservative management of chronic ankle instability. Your physical therapist will perform an assessment on your ankle range of motion, strength, and balance and will assess for any laxity, or more movement than is normal, within the ankle and ankle ligaments.
After an ankle injury, there is a loss in strength and proprioception (awareness of the position of the body in space). So exercises are given to re-strengthen the muscles, increase ankle stability, balance, and retrain the body awareness of the ankle. Furthermore, a brace and/or taping is recommended to support the stabilization of the ankle, especially for individuals who engage in high-risk activities like sports.
However, not all injuries are capable of recovering with conservative management. Thus, in very severe cases, surgery may be an option to repair the injured ligaments and give the ankle stability.
What happens if its goes untreated?
Without treatment, an individual will continue to have difficulties balancing, walking on uneven terrain, and putting weight onto the ankle. Subsequently, the instability may worsen over time and will have a much greater risk of reoccurring injuries to the ankle. Thus making it more challenging to recover from these injuries. Additionally, it can result in damage to the bones and cartilage within the ankle joint as the muscles weaken and fail to support the joint. Therefore, to avoid severe injury it is highly recommended that individuals seek expert treatment.
If you are having stability problems with your ankle, book with PhysioNow today for an initial assessment and treatment. We have many capable physical therapists that will be able to help your ankle recover!