How to Prevent a Sprained Ankle From Becoming a Chronic Instability

December 1, 2022

Ankle sprains are pretty common, and in most cases, they clear up without any problems. But sometimes, a sprain can lead to chronic instability, along with an increased risk of future ankle problems. Here’s what you can do to prevent that.

Every year in the United States, about 2 million people sprain their ankles in a sports injury, fall, or other traumatic event. While treating an ankle sprain is usually straightforward, nearly three-quarters of ankle sprains lead to ongoing problems, including chronic ankle instability. 

As top-rated podiatrists in Richmond, Virginia, Weston Angermeier, DPM, and Rachel Hensley, DPM, help patients at Richmond Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates lower their risk of chronic instability through state-of-the-art ankle injury treatment aimed at improving the health and strength of the joint. If you’ve suffered a sprained ankle, here’s what you can do to lower your own risk of chronic ankle instability. 

How sprains lead to instability

Ankle sprains involve damage to one or more ligaments, or the strong bands of tissue that connect the bones within your ankle joint. A sprain happens when a ligament is stretched beyond its normal capacity and winds up tearing, either completely or partially.  

You can sprain your ankle by landing oddly after a jump, from a direct impact to the joint, from a fall, or by “rolling” your ankle when you walk. While sprains are especially common among athletes, they can — and do — happen to anyone, including people who lead relatively sedentary lives. 

Even though ligaments have some amount of “stretchability,” they’re not particularly flexible. After a sprain, they don’t always return to their pre-injury level of tension and strength. That leaves the joint weaker and more vulnerable to future sprains and possibly bone fractures. 

You can develop chronic ankle instability after a single ankle sprain. However, the risk increases when you experience repeated sprains in the same ankle. If your ankle becomes less stable, you may be plagued by the uncontrollable “turning in” of your ankle joint while you’re walking, playing sports, or even simply standing still. 

Lowering the risk chronic ankle instability

Obviously, one of the best ways to prevent chronic ankle instability is to do all you can to avoid sprains in the first place. But sprains are common, and it’s not always possible to avoid them. 

Seek expert evaluation

If you’ve sprained your ankle, the best way to prevent future instability is by having a prompt medical evaluation — even if your injury seems “minor.” Immediate expert care is important for treating the sprain according to its “grade,” or severity, and tailoring a rehabilitation plan aimed at improving joint function.  

Undergo physical therapy

Most ankle sprain treatment plans include physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that surround the joint and minimize the kind of weakness that can lead to future strains. Physical therapy also improves balance and coordination among the main muscle groups that help you stand, walk, and use your ankles in other ways.  

Throughout your therapy, your ankle is closely evaluated to ensure the sprain heals properly, so you can reduce your risks of future injury while enjoying the activities you love. 

Wear supportive shoes

In addition to prompt medical treatment and therapy, you can play a proactive role by selecting the right footwear for your activities and lifestyle. Opt for shoes that support your feet and your ankles, and if you play a sport, choose shoes that are specifically designed for that activity. 

Don’t ignore an ankle injury

Ankle sprains may be common, but that doesn’t mean they’re not serious. Even a mild sprain can lead to instability and long-term disability unless the joint receives proper medical care as early as possible. 

If you have any kind of ankle injury, don’t ignore it or wait for it to “heal naturally” — we can help relieve painful symptoms and prevent more serious problems from developing in the future. Call 804-358-9031 or book an appointment online with our team at Richmond Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates today.