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What is Chronic Ankle Instability?

Chronic ankle instability is a serious foot condition that can occur among individuals who have recently suffered from an ankle sprain. If you believe that you’re affected by this condition, you should learn more about what chronic ankle instability is and how the problem can be effectively treated.

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How is Chronic Ankle Instability Characterized?

Chronic ankle instability is a condition wherein the outer portion of the ankle “gives out” on a repeated basis, which can cause you to lose your balance. In most cases, this type of injury only develops when the affected individual has previously suffered from multiple ankle sprains. The ankle giving out almost always happens when you’re walking or exercising, but may even happen while you’re simply standing up. 

Symptoms of Chronic Ankle Instability

There are a variety of symptoms that occur with chronic ankle instability — the primary of which is that your ankle will turn awkwardly when playing sports or when walking on uneven surfaces. When you’ve developed chronic ankle instability, tenderness and pain are common symptoms that tend to worsen in moments when your ankle gives out.

The discomfort that you experience in your ankle will be chronic (meaning that it’s always there at some level). While the pain can reduce in severity, it’s persistent. Your ankle will also feel unstable when walking or running. All of these symptoms are relatively easy to diagnose by simply comparing how each foot feels.

Primary Causes for Chronic Ankle Instability

A chronic case of ankle instability usually develops when a previous ankle sprain has not healed properly. Spraining an ankle causes tearing problems with the ligaments within your ankle. When this occurs, your ability to properly balance is adversely affected. The ankle needs to be rehabilitated correctly in order to minimize the chances of developing this condition, which means that the muscles and tissues around the injury must be strengthened and retrained. Not doing so heightens your risk of suffering from additional sprains. When multiple sprains occur, it’s possible that you could begin to suffer from chronic ankle disability because of the continued weakening of your ligaments.

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Diagnosis of Chronic Ankle Instability

Since previous sprains are the primary cause of chronic ankle disability, your medical history will be key towards helping your doctor determine if you’re affected by this condition. 

Your ankle will also be thoroughly examined to check for signs of tender spots, instability, and general swelling in the area. If a diagnosis can’t be made at this time, additional x-rays and imaging tests will be administered to better evaluate the condition of your ankle.

The full results of your diagnosis will determine what kind of treatment will be recommended for you.

Treatment Options 

Although chronic ankle instability is a chronic condition that can’t be fully healed, there are a range of treatment options that can assist in heavily reducing symptoms while also strengthening the ankle to safeguard it against future issues. These treatments can either be surgical or non-surgical.


The first treatment option is physical therapy, which is aimed at strengthening your ankle and improving your overall range of motion in the area. These exercises and stretches will become progressively more difficult throughout physical therapy as the ankle strengthens, which helps to test your limits and bolster the effects of the treatment. 

Wearing an ankle brace is another effective treatment for ankle instability in order to increase support and stability for the ankle.

You might also be prescribed medications to help with pain and swelling. These medications typically include standard pain relievers, as well as anti-inflammatory medications. 


If your pain isn’t improving — or is becoming worse — even with physical therapy, an ankle brace,  pain relievers, or anti-inflammatory medications, you may need to seek surgical treatment.

Surgery will be used only in the most serious of situations, when the degree of the ankle instability is severe and non-surgical treatments have failed to work properly.

Surgeries for chronic ankle instability typically center around the reconstruction or repair of the ligaments that have been damaged. During your consultation with us, we will determine the precise surgery for your specific condition. 

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Why Choose Foot & Ankle Specialty Group?

Our practice is about getting people back to activity. Foot and ankle specialists Dr. Salma Aziz, Dr. Petrina Yokay, and Dr. Jessica Arneson provide patients with a nurturing female surgeon group offering the very best in patient care and follow-up. Since 2001, Foot & Ankle Specialty Group has been a staple of the Rancho Santa Margarita and Newport Beach area. If you’re suffering from ankle instability, it’s time to feel better. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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