If you’ve ever tried to strap something onto your car or bike with a worn out bungee cord, you know how the load keeps shifting and you can’t quite guarantee that your bundle will still be there when you reach your destination. The same phenomenon can happen with your ankle. Sometimes it seems as if it might slide out of position at any moment—and often it does. This ankle instability can lead to sprains and falls—and further injury.
Why Your Ankle Gives Way
The most common reason is that the ligaments holding the bones of the joint in place have been damaged—often from a previous ankle sprain—and have not regained their strength. The bounce is gone, the ligament is stretched and flaccid, and the whole ankle feels loose and unsafe.
There are other causes for the instability and pain. One of the bones in the joint may be fractured, or you could have developed scar tissue from a previous injury that is putting pressure on the bones or soft tissues. You could also have developed arthritis in your ankle, especially if it was injured before, or an inflammation in the tissue between the bones. It could also be a torn tendon, or a damaged or compressed nerve.
It is always important to come in to Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center and let our experts determine exactly what is causing your ankle issues. A correct diagnosis is crucial for determining the focus of any treatment.
What Ankle Instability Feels Like
You will probably have pain—more acute when you twist or turn your ankle, or a dull, constant throb as you move about. You may repeatedly turn your ankle or stumble when walking. The joint could swell up, or it could become stiff and limit your range of motion. You may feel wobbly on your feet, or lose your balance now and then, because the joint is not functioning as it should. Walking in heels or on uneven surfaces could be especially difficult.
If your condition is due to a past sprain that did not completely heal, you will likely be prone to having repeat sprains. That’s why we take your medical history and ask about previous injuries. We may manipulate the joint to determine what movements cause pain, and thus isolate which tissues are involved. X-rays or other imaging tests may also help us diagnose what’s going on.
How We Work to Stabilize Your Ankle and Reduce Your Pain
To get you over the first hump of discomfort, we may recommend an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, or possibly an injection of steroid medication (although repeated injections may weaken the tissue even further). Many times an ankle brace can keep you from jarring or reinjuring the ankle while it is recovering. If there is a fracture involved, we will immobilize the joint until it is healed.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove excess tissue or bone fragments, or to clean up the joint surfaces. Other surgical procedures are used to repair torn ligaments or transfer a tendon to increase stability. The goal of these procedures is to eliminate your pain and give you more confidence that your ankle will not give way and cause a fall.
What You Can Do for Ankle Instability
The most important thing you can do is to get proper treatment for all ankle injuries and take enough time for it to heal. During this time, follow our instructions about weight-bearing, and complete any physical therapy we may recommend. Rehab by exercising, strengthening, and stretching the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your ankle will restore their condition and keep your joint more stable. This is the natural and preferred method to correct ankle problems whenever possible.
When we approve a return to your sport or normal activities, wear a brace to protect your ankle. It usually works better than taping to control joint movement. Lace any high top shoes correctly, too, for the best result.
If you have any questions about ankle instability or reconditioning your joint, call Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center at (303) 423-2520 for an appointment at our Wheat Ridge, Golden, Evergreen, or Granby CO, office today.
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