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Ankle instability can be brought on by an ankle injury to one or more of the ankle structures like the ankle ligaments. The instability can make you feel like your ankle is going to give out and may lead to more frequent ankle sprains. Ankle instability treatment starts off with therapies such as activity avoidance, strengthening exercises, and ankle braces. For some people, that won’t be enough and their ankle instability treatment will require surgery.
Ankle instability treatment usually starts with conservative treatment that aims to reduce pain, improve ankle stability, and minimize the likelihood of further ankle injuries. Read on to learn more about how you can incorporate these treatments.
One of the first things you need to do to treat chronic ankle instability is to avoid activities that put you at a greater risk of injury. This means no sports like basketball or volleyball. This will give your body time to heal, allowing ankle pain and swelling to subside. When your injury has resolved and you’ve been cleared by your doctor then you can slowly restart activities.
Strengthening exercises are a crucial part of treating an unstable ankle. Focus on strengthening the muscles that allow the ankle to move from side to side, also known as invert and evert. This will develop ankle stability and improve your range of motion as well. Always listen to your body as you begin exercising. If you have damaged ligaments or other injured structures you might have pain and need to slow down or stop.
Effective Ankle Stability Exercises
If you have a complicated ankle instability case then you should reach out to a physical therapist for treatment. They will perform a physical exam of your legs, ankles, and feet to evaluate your injury. They will determine what is causing the chronic pain and which ligaments or tendons may be affected. A physical therapist will guide you through stretches and exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles. Many times they will also provide you with education on how to prevent re-injury and ways to support your ankle.
An ankle brace is a great way to protect your ankle as you heal or to prevent re-injury after you’ve healed. There are several types of braces that offer varying levels of support. For maximum support look for a rigid brace that will keep your ankle joint in a neutral position to prevent inversion or eversion and provide compression. For those that don’t need significant support then a compression brace may be a better solution. These braces are elastic and don’t have any rigid components. They provide compression and mild stability.
There are two types of tape that are available for ankle instability treatment, kinesiology tape and athletic tape. Kinesiology tape is a newer product that increases your proprioception and improves blood and lymphatic circulation to the area. Athletic tape has been around for a long time and can provide a firmer structure around the ankle to be almost brace-like. Both types of tape have their place in treating ankle instability.
Learn More About Taping for Ankle Stability
Ankle instability pain can be managed with a few simple home remedies. Check them out below.
Many people experience significant ankle pain from ankle instability. Using over-the-counter pain medications like NSAIDs (ibuprofen) can reduce pain and minimize swelling. Acetaminophen is another medication that can also reduce pain but does not reduce swelling. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you start a new medication to ensure it doesn’t cause any unintended side effects.
Cold therapy can be accomplished with an ice pack over the injured ankle. Keep an ankle ice wrap on for 20 minute intervals. The cold will numb the pain and reduce swelling. Use cold for the first 72 hours after an injury then switch to heat. Heat therapy can be accomplished with a heating pad or a warm towel. Just like cold therapy, keep the heat on for 20 minutes at a time. Make sure you don’t use heat if you have swelling or bruising. The warmth increases blood flow to the area which will make the swelling and bruising worse.
How to Alternate Hot & Cold Therapy
Gentle stretching will improve your range of motion after you have recovered from your injury. Make sure you stretch slowly as some patients experience loose ankle ligaments which can put them at greater risk for re-injury. If you are in pain, stop stretching and consult your doctor.
Compression therapy uses tight elastic wraps or sleeves to reduce swelling and increase proprioception. An ankle compression sleeve is a great option as it can be pulled on and off easily and works on either ankle. The pressure from the sleeve will keep you aware of your injury and lessen the chances of re-injury. Another option is an elastic wrap. These wraps also provide pressure and awareness but are slightly more cumbersome to use.
When nonsurgical treatment isn’t reducing pain and improving your ankle stability then it’s time to look at your surgical options. An orthopedic surgeon will perform a physical examination and likely order diagnostic imaging like x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This will give the surgeon a better idea of the type of ankle injury you have and the surgical treatment options available to you.
Ankle arthroscopy uses a small incision for the orthopedic surgeon to perform the repair. Many people prefer arthroscopic techniques for quick recovery and reduce the chances of infection. However, if your ankle surgeon needs to make significant repairs then an open procedure may be the only option.
If you have suffered from a sprained ankle then proper treatment can reduce your chances of developing long-term ligament injury. Unfortunately, many people will have repeated ankle sprains that cause ankle instability. To treat ankle instability use braces, taping, physical therapy, and strengthening exercises. A few patients may need surgery to fully stabilize their ankle. Always talk to your doctor to determine the best course of action for your injury to help you get back to all the activities you enjoy.
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