How to Keep a Sprained Ankle from Becoming Chronically Unstable

Nearly 700,000 ankle sprains occur each year in the U.S., and although athletes might be more prone to these injuries, the fact is, ankle sprains can occur in anyone at any age and with any level of activity. In fact, ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries. Most sprains respond very well to conservative treatments, like rest, elevation, and application of ice. But when you’ve had more than one ankle sprain or if you’ve had a very bad sprain, you can develop what’s known as chronic ankle instability. 

What is chronic ankle instability?

To understand chronic ankle instability and how it occurs, you first need to know a little bit about ankle anatomy and ankle sprains. Your ankle joint includes bones, muscles, tendons, and strong bands that connect one bone to another called ligaments. When you sprain your ankle, it’s the ligament that gets injured, typically stretched beyond its normal capacity. In addition to pain when you sprain your ankle, you might also hear or feel a “snap” as the ligament “pops” into place. A lot of ankle sprains occur when you roll your ankle to one side or another or when you land oddly after a jump. Less commonly, you can have a sprain from a fall or another type of traumatic incident, like a car accident.

Chronic ankle instability usually develops over time, after you’ve had a few sprains that have caused the ligament to become stretched out. A loose ligament tends to snap out of place more often, which means it doesn’t provide the same amount of support and stability to the joint. As a result, people with chronic ankle instability are more prone to having their ankle give way, and that means they’re also more prone to sprains and even fractures in the future.

5 tips to prevent chronic ankle instability

The best way to prevent chronic ankle instability is to prevent the sprains that can lead to it. 

Wear the right shoes

Shoes are more than a style statement. They also provide proper support for your ankles and your feet. If you play a sport, choosing the right shoes for your activity can significantly reduce injuries. Try swapping out high-heeled shoes for a pair of attractive flats. And always choose shoes that are neither too big nor too small.

Choose your terrain

If you hike or run, skip the sandy or gravelly paths that can strain your ligaments and opt for firmer ground instead. Keep alert to your environment, too. Most of us walk with our eyes focused on the horizon in front of us, and that means we may not see tripping hazards, like uneven sidewalks, rocks, stones, or unexpected elevation changes. Try to be alert to where you’re putting your feet to avoid tripping or planting your foot incorrectly.

Strengthen your leg muscles

Your ankles don’t work independently. They depend on strong legs and healthy knees and hips to keep them stable and functional. Strengthening your leg muscles, especially those in your calves, increases ankle stability, which can reduce your risk for falls and sprains.

Look into physical therapy

Therapy focuses on exercises that improve ankle strength and flexibility. Some therapists can also evaluate your gait (the way you walk) and your activities (like sports), making recommendations that can help you avoid injuries in the future.

Take care of your feet

Not all ankle problems are directly related to your ankle anatomy. Some can be caused by foot problems, like bunions, neuromas, or plantar fasciitis. The link is pretty straightforward: If you have a sore spot on your foot, you’re more likely to walk on the outside or inside of your foot. Not only does that put a lot more strain on your ankle, but it also throws off your balance, so you’re more likely to fall or twist your ankle. Making an appointment at the first sign of a foot problem not only relieves the discomfort it’s causing, but it can help prevent ankle sprains, too.

Animas Foot and Ankle is a leading provider of state-of-the-art treatments for ankle problems, helping men and women prevent injury so they can enjoy the lifestyles and activities they love. If you’re having ankle pain or if you’ve had multiple sprains, we can help you avoid chronic ankle instability. For your evaluation, book an appointment today.

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