Are Orthotics the Answer to Chronic Ankle Instability?
When a person suffers from chronic ankle instability, they can feel pain and they can even fall without warning. The unstable ankle is more susceptible to strains and sprains. What can be done to support these weak ankles and help them get stronger and more stable. Pain pills won’t solve the problem. Surgery is not often the right solution. But ankle orthotics can help by stabilizing the ankle and helping to reduce pain without pills.
What is Ankle Instability?
Chronic instability of the ankle is often caused by an ankle injury such as a sprained ankle that has not healed well. The definition of this condition is a recurring weakness or giving way of the outer or lateral side of the ankle. The weakness or giving way happens while a person is walking or taking part in other activities. It can also happen when a person is standing still. Ankle instability develops when ankle ligaments are overstretched or they might be torn and grow together too loosely.
Ankle instability can take the form of mechanical instability, functional instability, or both. Foot orthotics can help with both forms of instability.
People with this condition often experience the repeated turning of their ankles during sports activities or on uneven surfaces. They may have discomfort, pain, tenderness, and swelling on a chronic basis. They can have the ankle feeling unstable, weak, or wobbly. The person can feel discomfort when standing for prolonged periods. A person can try special support stockings such as AFO socks to support the ankles and allow them time to get stronger.
When a person’s doctor or foot and ankle specialist examines the ankle or ankles and determines the extent of the problem, they will suggest a range of treatments depending on the severity of the condition. They will start with non-surgical treatment options and only turn to surgery as a last resort. The non-surgical treatment options include:
1. Physical therapy involving exercises and treatments to strengthen the ankle, retrain ankle muscles, and correct the range of motion and balance. One physiotherapy treatment is named neuromuscular training where the goal is to improve the ankle’s stability, strength, and coordination. Research has shown this approach works at least in the short term.
2. Bracing and the use of orthotics can help support the ankle and keep it from turning. Bracing or use of support stockings can help prevent more ankle sprains, giving the ankle time to heal and grow stronger.
3. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen might be prescribed to reduce pain and treat inflammation.
When the non-surgical treatments are not effective, surgery might be needed. If ligaments remain too loose and the ankle remains unstable after physical therapy, surgery may be the only solution. The surgery can include shortening and tightening ankle ligaments or even taking a healthy tendon from the lower leg to replace the damaged ligament. Two weeks after the ankle surgery, the patient will again receive physical therapy to complete the healing process.
After surgery, the patient might also wear an ankle brace or orthopaedic socks to give the ankle external support. It is important to do strength training and physical therapy as well as wearing orthotics for a better recovery. People who do the exercises and strength training are able to return to work or normal activities faster than people who don’t do the exercises.