An unstable ankle is very problematic and can lead to recurrent ankle sprains and difficulty running or participating in sports or simple activities.  This is caused by a condition called chronic ankle laxity, or a looseness and instability of the ankle ligaments leading to increased, unnatural motion of the ankle joint.   Although this is not always associated with pain, it leads to recurrent injuries that can be quite painful and limiting

Symptoms:  Common spraining of the ankle even doing simple tasks.   In fact, some individuals will twist the ankle just slightly and fall to the ground because of this laxity.    Symptoms may also include inability to walk on uneven surfaces and loss of balance to that ankle.  Therefore, having ankle laxity may cause pain, a feeling of ankle instability, and recurrences of swelling or sprains.

Why It Happens: When you twist or sprain your ankle, the ligaments supporting your ankle are torn or damaged.  As they heal, the ligaments heal slightly lengthened with scar tissue.  This increased length will cause the ligaments to be less stable and looser.  One of the principle roles of ligaments (besides holding bones together) is sending signals to the tendons that they are being stretched.  This signal produces the response that keeps an ankle stable.   With loose ligaments no stress is produced and thus no signal is sent.   So the more you sprain your ankle, the more likely it is to get sprained again.  It’s a predictable cycle unless you start strengthening and rebuilding your ankle support.

Treating Laxity:  Since an unstable ankle is so problematic, it is important to find solutions to provide the support previously available through the ligaments.  Common treatment options include bracing, splinting, ankle taping, and treating the sprains (anti-inflammatory medications, rest, ice, compression, elevation).  There are also surgeries available to repair the stretched ligaments, but this is not usually recommended unless you are spraining your ankle walking across your Living Room floor. 

The body is an amazing organism that commonly will accommodate for a problem with redundancy.  Although there is not additional ligaments in the area to accommodate, tendons that cross the same joints can accommodate for this laxity.   The best treatment option is therefore to teach the tendons to accommodate for the weakened ligaments.  This is done through multiple exercises, including Balance Exercises, Strengthening Exercises, Stretching Exercises and Range of Motion Exercises.

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
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Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute