Ankle instability is a chronic condition that causes the outer portion of the ankle to weaken and give way.

Ankle Instability

What Is Ankle Instability?

Ankle instability is a chronic condition that causes the outer portion of the ankle to weaken and give way. It is often brought on by repeated ankle sprains and is most common in athletes. However, it also occurs with those who spend long amounts of time on their feet.

People with chronic ankle instability will typically lose their balance and have an ankle give out during activities (e.g., walking/running), but it has also been known to flare up while just standing still.

What Are the Symptoms of Ankle Instability?

Some common symptoms include:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Persistent swelling
  • Repeated rolling of the ankle
  • A wobbly or unstable sensation
What Causes Ankle Instability?

In many cases, a chronic feeling of instability develops after an ankle injury does not properly heal or is not rehabilitated to full measure.

With an ankle sprain (which is the most common type of ankle injury), connective tissue and ligaments are stretched and/or torn, causing diminished balance and strength.

It is when ankle sprains happen repeatedly—without proper treatment or rehabilitation—that chronic ankle instability occurs.

Is Treatment Available?

Yes. Nonsurgical and surgical treatments are available, and it is often recommended to start with conservative methods first.

What Are the Nonsurgical Treatment Options?

Nonsurgical therapies are typically applied to strengthen and stabilize an injured ankle.

Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Bracing: Wearing a brace can add support to a wobbly ankle. It also allows a patient to move while keeping the injury in place. That gives the injury a chance to heal.
  • Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can often be prescribed to manage pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy: By employing a range of exercises and treatments, physical therapy is often the best option for strengthening an unstable ankle while easing pain. Depending on the severity of the condition, PT allows for customized treatment plans.
What Is Lateral Ankle Reconstruction?

When conservative methods fail, surgery may be required. Surgery will usually involve reconstruction of damaged/torn tissue in the ankle in order to allow the opportunity for rebuilding and re-strengthening through therapy in post-op.

Since ankle instability typically happens on the lateral (outside) of the ankle and foot, a procedure that is quite often performed is a lateral ankle reconstruction. The goal of which is to restore full strength and stability to the ankle by repairing the torn and over-extended tissue.

After the minimally invasive procedure is performed, a splint or air cast will be required. It can take up to six weeks for a patient to be able to put any weight on the operated ankle. The entire healing process (including therapy) is estimated to last between six months to a year.

How Does One Avoid Chronic Ankle Instability?

More than 10,000 people sprain their ankles on a daily basis. Whether a person is running, walking, playing a sport, working or just standing on uneven ground, it is an unexpected and painful injury that can occur with little effort.

As mentioned, repeated and untreated ankle sprains can lead to ankle instability. The best way to avoid ankle instability is to avoid ankle sprains in the first place.

With that in mind, there are plenty of steps one can take in order to prevent this condition from happening:

  • Partake in balance board training: By using a balance board, a person can strengthen the ligaments that are often injured from an ankle sprain. Standing on one foot, the act of attempting to maintain balance utilizes muscles that are vital for stability and balance.
  • Utilize resistance bands: The use of resistance bands can allow for slow and controlled movement while strengthening the ankles and feet.
  • Pay attention to uneven surfaces: People often sprain ankles by stepping on uneven surfaces. This can be avoided by simply picking up one’s feet to a healthy degree when walking and being cognoscente of the ground below.
  • Stretch before exercising: Be sure to employ light stretches before activities like running, walking or sports. By flexing the ankle ligaments, a person becomes far more likely to recover quickly from a sprain and to have above-average strength in the ankles.
  • Maintain your footwear: Make sure to repair or replace shoes that have become worn out, especially when wear is on the outside section of the heels.  High heels are particularly problematic when they are worn, as they put the ankle in an extremely precarious and hazardous position.

Should someone hurt an ankle so much so that it feels weak and/or wobbly when standing on it, or it is tender to the touch and swells often, he/she should see a specialist.

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Meet Our Doctors

The physicians of Essex Union Podiatry are experienced and dedicated professionals trained in various subspecialties of podiatry care. Click on the pictures below to learn more about our doctors.

Jason P. Galante, DPM,

Jason Galante, DPM, AASPS

Nancy A. Kaplan, DPM, MBA, AACHE, FACFAS


Sarah E. Haller, DPM, AACFAS