Chronic ankle instability, as the name implies, is a chronic condition of instability affecting the ankle and it’s surrounding structures. It usually develops after a severe ankle sprain. However, some people are born with less stable ankles and these individuals are generally extra flexible throughout their bodies. Approximately 20% of ankle sprains lead to chronic ankle instability due to the resulting changes in ligament support, strength, postural control, muscle reaction time and sensation.
What are the symptoms?
As well as being more susceptible to ankle sprains, people with chronic ankle instability may notice they feel cautious during high-intensity activities, running on uneven surfaces or when changing directions quickly. They may experience a sense of weakness or frequent ‘giving way’ around their ankle.
What are the causes?
The primary causes of this condition are ligament laxity, decreased muscle strength of the muscles surrounding the ankle and reduced proprioception.
Following an ankle sprain, ligaments can be stretched and slightly looser than they were. In severe cases, they may have torn altogether, leaving the ankle less structurally sound. Without full rehabilitation, the surrounding muscles also become weaker and studies have shown that balance and sensation of the ankle can also be reduced. This means that the ankle is more likely to be injured again, creating a cycle of recurrent injuries, leading to further instability.
How can physiotherapy help?
Physiotherapy treatment for chronic ankle instability focuses on improving strength, control and balance with a variety of techniques and exercises. This approach can significantly improve ankle stability and reduce the risk of future sprains. Physiotherapists can help patients to regain confidence and get back to their best performance.
In some cases, braces for support can be used. However, this can lead to dependence and further loss of strength and control if used unnecessarily. In cases of extreme ligament laxity or if physiotherapy fails, surgery to repair the damaged ligaments is considered. This is usually combined with a full physiotherapy rehabilitation program for greatest success.
If you don’t feel 100% confident with your ankle, come and have a chat with one of our physiotherapists to see if we can help improve your ankle stability.
What is an ACL tear and how does it occur?
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a strong piece of connective tissue which helps attach the thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia). The ACL provides stability to the knee joint as it prevents the tibia from sliding forward relative to the femur.
ACL tears are a common sporting injury, however they can also occur from everyday activities. The most typical mechanisms of injury are landing awkwardly from a jump, twisting the knee, or suddenly stopping while running. The ACL may also be injured during knee hyperextension, or getting hit on the outside of the knee. Often, other tissues surrounding the knee are also damaged, including the medial collateral ligament, meniscus, joint cartilage and bone surfaces. The ligament can be stretched, partially damaged or completely torn.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Many people report hearing a “pop” in the knee along with immediate pain and swelling. Decreased range of movement of the knee is common and the injured knee is typically unable to take full weight when standing or walking. The knee may also feel unstable, with a sensation of “giving way”. Poor balance and coordination may also be experienced. Smaller tears of the ligament may have only mild symptoms, however, more severe tears will have more significant pain, swelling and instability.
Is surgery necessary?
Traditionally, surgery was thought to be necessary for all full-thickness ACL tears. A series of recent studies have shown however, that outcomes are often the same for people who chose surgery and those who didn’t, both in terms of recovery and future risk of osteoarthritis. Individual circumstances will impact this decision. Elite athletes and cases with additional meniscal tears may do better with surgery. Generally speaking however, with time and full rehabilitation, many people can return to their previous levels of activity without surgery.
How can physiotherapy help?
For both surgical and non-surgical recovery from ACL tears, physiotherapy rehabilitation is essential for a full recovery. Your physiotherapist will assist you with improving your knee range of movement, lower limb strength, balance, stability and coordination. You will re-learn the tasks of walking, using stairs, and negotiating obstacles with retraining of your balance and control.
Early in rehabilitation, the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is used in conjunction with static resistance type exercises to improve muscle contraction in the leg and increase blood flow to the area.
Throughout your rehabilitation program, you will progress through a variety of strength and mobility exercises targeted towards your individual needs, with goals of returning to your favourite sport or hobby as soon and as safely as possible.