What is Chronic Ankle Instability?

Do you still have pain in your ankle, even months after spraining it? Do you ever feel like your ankle is going to “give out?”

If you have continued pain after a severe sprain or series of ankle sprains, you may have chronic lateral ankle instability. You may also be at higher risk for chronic ankle instability if you are ‘double jointed’ or have a genetic predisposition to loose tissues.


How do I know if I have ankle instability?

Your physician can order a radiograph to rule out any fracture and evaluate for any gross instability.

If you have persistent pain, an MRI can be ordered. MRIs evaluate soft tissues, including ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. An MRI can evaluate the integrity of the lateral ankle ligaments after an ankle sprain. MRIs can also evaluate for other injuries, including tendon injuries, bony contusions (bruises), or  injuries to the ankle cartilage.


How can I strengthen my unstable ankle?

First, completing a thorough course of physical therapy is important. A physical therapist will use a specific instability protocol that focuses not only on range of motion and strength but also balance and proprioception (your body’s awareness of the position of the ankle and foot).

We also recommend using a good ankle brace when participating in sports to prevent further instability episodes.


My ankle still feels unstable. What’s next?

If a patient has chronic ankle instability and pain after an ankle sprain, ankle surgery may be appropriate. Typically, most ankle sprains recover within 6 months of the injury, so surgery isn’t typically recommended until after that time frame and after physical therapy.

Ankle surgery involves repairing the torn ligaments on the lateral ankle. Often, an ankle arthroscopy, where a camera is placed into the ankle joint, is used to evaluate for cartilage lesions. This procedure is done at the same time as the ligament repair.


The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) has more information about ankle sprain at FootCareMD.

Our blog has general information about ankle sprains here.


For more questions or to set up an evaluation, contact Dr. Stautberg’s office at 281-977-4870.


Eugene Stautberg, MD

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