How to Prevent a Sprained Ankle From Becoming a Chronic Instability

Ankle sprains are common. From sports accidents to high-heel mishaps, there’s no shortage of ways to sprain your ankle. And once you do, the chance of spraining it again increases by up to 70%. Even worse, just one ankle sprain can quickly turn into chronic ankle instability. 

At Anderson Foot & Ankle Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mikol Anderson, DPM, helps patients fully recover from ankle sprains and prevent recurrences. Read on to learn the steps Dr. Anderson recommends to ensure your ankle sprain doesn’t become a chronic problem. 

How chronic ankle instability develops

When you sprain your ankle, one or more ligaments, the thick bands that connect your bones, are stretched beyond their usual capability. Ankle sprains range in severity from a minor stretch to a severe one that includes small tears. In the worst cases, the ligament or ligaments rupture.

Along with connecting the bones of your joint, ligaments hold bones in their correct position and provide stability. 

Typically, a mild sprain causes moderate-to-severe pain and only temporarily weakens your joint. Still, if the ligaments don’t heal properly, even a mild sprain can cause chronic ankle instability.

Once the ankle joint loses stability due to weak ligaments, your risk for repeated ankle sprains increases. In time, chronic ankle instability can damage the bones and cartilage in your ankle and cause arthritis.

The most important step to ensure a complete recovery after a sprained ankle is taking the time to let your ligament heal fully. Dr. Anderson recommends:

Begin the RICE protocol immediately

Mild, moderate, and severe sprains all benefit from the RICE protocol, designed to minimize swelling. Take these steps as soon as possible following the injury.

Rest

Protect your ligament, and let it start healing by taking a break from activities.  

Ice

To minimize pain and swelling, apply an ice pack immediately. Keep the ice pack on for 10-20 minutes, at least three times per day for the first two to three days following your ankle sprain.

Compression

Also, manage swelling by wrapping an elastic bandage around the ankle. A wrap offers the added benefit of providing some stabilization.

Elevation

Keep the injured ankle elevated while you apply ice and any time you can. The goal is to keep your foot at or above the level of your heart to reduce swelling.

Seek a professional evaluation

If your ankle hurts when bearing weight, schedule an immediate appointment with Dr. Anderson. You should also seek an evaluation if the swelling lasts longer than a few days. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about whether treatment is necessary.

Take a break

Unless your sprain is exceptionally mild, the worst thing you can do — and the likeliest path to developing ongoing instability — is to continue using your ankle and engaging in your normal activities.

Whether your an athlete or have a job that requires physical activity, staying off your ankle can be challenging. Still, Dr. Anderson recommends an initial period of immobilization to ensure you make a full recovery and rebuild optimal ligament strength.

In most cases, you’ll only need to keep weight off your ankle for 7-10 days. If your sprain is moderate or severe, chances are we’ll ensure your ankle is protected and immobilized with a walking boot or cast.

Rehabilitate gradually

Restoring full ligament strength requires gradual rehabilitation. Putting stress on the ligament too soon is among the most common causes of ongoing instability. Typically, it takes at least six weeks for a ligament to heal.

Dr. Anderson advises patients to start rehabilitation as soon as it’s safe. Patients begin with exercises to improve the ankle’s range of motion. Once the swelling and pain go down, restoration advances to include activities to strengthen the ankle.

If you participate in regular or competitive sports, your rehabilitation program may include additional exercises specific to your activities. Dr. Anderson may advise that you wear a functional brace to stabilize your ankle and prevent it from retwisting as you resume normal activities. During rehabilitation, you also focus on rebuilding strength in your leg and foot muscles since they are essential to adequately supporting your ankle.

Assess your foot biomechanics

Most patients sprain their ankle by twisting it on uneven ground or participating in sports requiring sudden stops and turns. However, problems in your foot can also contribute to a sprained ankle. We’ll assess your foot biomechanics and structure during your recovery and recommend treatment if needed to prevent future ankle sprains.

To treat ankle sprains and all your podiatric care, schedule an appointment online, or call our office today.

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