When a stable surface supporting you suddenly collapses, it can be pretty startling to say the least. Imagine crossing a swinging bridge over a stream. You know the boards are weak and might not hold much weight, but you don’t know which board will break when you step on it. Crossing the bridge suddenly goes from a simple, mindless task to something you have to worry about to stay safe. Ankle instability does the same thing to you in daily life, making it more difficult to walk or participate in activities.
Why the Sudden Collapse
Ankles are designed to handle high pressure and sudden strain while still remaining moveable. In most cases, they do this quite well. Connective tissues called ligaments hold all of the bones in your ankle together so they stay where they need to and the limb doesn’t bend or twist too far. This connective tissue is slightly stretchy so your joint stays flexible, but movement is appropriately limited.
Ankles become unstable when these ligaments get too loose—generally a result of a sprain that didn’t heal correctly, or repeatedly spraining the same ankle. Sprains over-stretch or tear the supporting ligaments around your joint. This sharply limits their ability to stabilize your ankle and allows it to “give out” or collapse under pressure. If this problem never really heals, or happens so much the ligaments can’t recover, your joint won’t go back to its normal, stable self. Instead, it will remain loose and may not support much strain in the future.
The Effect on Your Joint
Ankle instability can be quite damaging and uncomfortable for your joint in the long run. It’s a self-perpetuating problem, too: an unstable ankle is more likely to be sprained. The more it is sprained, the more unstable it becomes.
You may find that your ankle suddenly turns to the side or “gives out” under you when you walk on uneven surfaces. This is usually worst when you’re participating in sports or other athletic activities that put a lot of stress on your lower limbs. You end up with a wobbly or insecure sensation. Chronic swelling and aching is common. In some cases, your joint may even be tender. The longer this persists, the worse the symptoms tend to get and the more damage is done to the tissues in and around your ankle. Eventually you may develop arthritis from all the extra wear and tear.
Accommodating the Instability
Fortunately, ankle instability—even when it’s chronic—can be managed conservatively. Our expert podiatrists at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona will evaluate your unstable joint and check for complications, like fractures or complete ligament ruptures. Once our team knows the extent of the damage, we can help you establish a tailored treatment plan to accommodate the problem.
The most common remedy is physical therapy. Careful strengthening exercises work to build up the muscles around your ankle to help compensate for loose ligaments. Therapy may also work to address your feet’s ability to adjust to changes in the ground below you as well. Active people may still need to wear a brace on the joint to add extra support for strenuous exercise. Icing the area when it aches may help with swelling and inflammation. We might also recommend anti-inflammatory medications for pain. If your ankle is still uncomfortable and unstable despite treatment, you might need surgery to repair your ligaments.
Unstable ankles make it very difficult to participate in activities and can be quite uncomfortable for you. You shouldn’t ignore the problem and let the damage compound. Let our team at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona in Chandler and Gilbert, AZ, help you address the problem and stabilize your joints. Make an appointment with us through our online request form. You can also call or fax either office: for Chandler, call (480) 963-9000 and fax (480) 963-0375; for Gilbert, call (480) 981-1800 and fax (480) 981-0229.