All it takes is one harmless misstep to leave you with a sprained ankle. While it’s one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in people of all ages, it can lead to permanent damage if you aren’t careful. If not properly handled, an initial sprain can progress into chronic instability of the ankle, a condition characterized by persistent discomfort and a tendency for the ankle to frequently 'give way.' The risk of encountering this issue heightens with every subsequent sprain, making prevention essential.

If you have a sprained ankle, our physicians at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists, located in Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Bartlett, and Buffalo Grove, are fully equipped to examine your condition thoroughly, including any previous ankle injuries and instability you may have had. We can then create a customized treatment plan tailored to your needs.

What Is Chronic Ankle Instability?

Chronic ankle instability is a condition that typically develops after repeated ankle sprains. It is characterized by the outer (lateral) side of the ankle frequently 'giving way' or feeling unstable, especially during walking or when you twist or unusually turn your ankle. 

This instability results from damage to the ligaments, the connective tissues responsible for maintaining the ankle's stability. An initial ankle sprain, if not properly healed or recurrent, can lead to this chronic condition.

What Causes Chronic Ankle Instability?

Chronic ankle instability commonly develops when an ankle sprain fails to heal adequately or when the ankle is repeatedly sprained. When you sprain your ankle, the ligaments stretch or even tear. These ligaments are important for keeping your ankle stable when you move.

Proper rehabilitation strengthens the muscles around the ankle, allowing it to heal completely. When the ankle doesn’t heal properly, you’re more vulnerable to spraining it again.

Each sprain can weaken the structure of the ankle, causing chronic instability. Patients with chronic instability of ankle experience:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Weakness
  • Chronic swelling of the ankle
  • Limited range of motion
  • Numbness
  • Instability
  • Popping sounds
  • Bruising
  • A “wobbly” or unstable feeling

An estimated 20% of people who have an acute ankle sprain later develop chronic instability.

Managing Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains vary in severity. A mild sprain may require a couple of weeks to heal, while a more severe sprain may need a few months of rehabilitation. The simple RICE protocol — rest, ice, compression, and elevation — helps to reduce swelling and chronic ankle pain immediately after you’ve sprained an ankle.

It’s a good idea to visit a physician to have your ankle evaluated. Our elite team of Foot and Ankle Specialists includes Dr. Lynette Mahoney, Dr. Raymond O’Hara, and Dr. Narendra Patel.

To recover fully, you need to restore the normal range of motion to the ankle and strengthen the damaged ligaments and supporting muscles. Following physical therapy, patients can expect an active lifestyle.

At Barrington Orthopedic Specialists, we offer comprehensive rehabilitation with our team of physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other specialists. The goal is to fully rehabilitate your ankle sprain and prevent sprains from happening in the future.

Nonsurgical Treatment

A combination of nonsurgical treatments that include physical therapy can relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of recurrent ankle sprains. Some nonsurgical treatments that can help include:

  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the ankle joint and muscles that keep the ankle stable and resist inversion.
  • Exercises to improve balance and support of the ankle
  • Ankle brace for support with daily activities and return to sports
  • Custom orthotics, if recommended

When Is Surgery Needed?

If surgery is recommended, your provider determines which surgical approach is best for you.

Sprained ankles are common, especially in athletes, and the reinjury rate is high. If you’ve sprained your ankle, seeing a specialist is the best place to start.

In certain circumstances, if the injury is severe or the ankle doesn't respond to non-surgical treatments, surgery may be required. This is a decision that your healthcare provider will make, determining the most suitable surgical approach for your specific case.

To schedule an appointment with one of our foot and ankle specialists, Dr. Cahill, Dr. Mahoney, Dr. O’Hara, or Dr. Patel contact Barrington Orthopedic Specialists at 847 285-4200. We have offices located in Buffalo Grove, Bartlett, Elk Grove Village, and Schaumburg. You can also request an appointment here on our website.