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Home | Uncategorized | Understanding Recurrent Ankle Instability

Understanding Recurrent Ankle Instability

Understanding Recurrent Ankle Instability


Recurrent (Chronic) ankle instability is a common condition characterised by frequent episodes of giving way or rolling of the ankle, often resulting from previous ankle sprains. In this blog, we will delve into the anatomy of the ankle joint, the ligaments involved, causes of injury and ongoing instability, and explore various treatment options, including conservative management and surgical interventions.

Anatomy of the Ankle Joint

The ankle joint is a complex hinge joint, composed of three bones connecting the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) to the foot bones (talus).

It is supported by a network of ligaments that provide stability and facilitate movement. The primary ligaments involved in ankle stability include:

  • Anterior Talofibular Ligament (ATFL): Located on the front and outer side of the ankle, the ATFL is one of the most commonly injured ligaments during ankle sprains.
  • Calcaneofibular Ligament (CFL): Situated on the outer side of the ankle, the CFL helps prevent excessive inversion (rolling inward) of the foot.
  • Posterior Talofibular Ligament (PTFL): Found at the back and outer side of the ankle, the PTFL reinforces the joint against backward (posterior) displacement of the talus bone.
  • Deltoid Ligament: Located on the inner side of the ankle, the deltoid ligament complex provides stability and resists eversion (rolling outward) of the foot.

Understanding the anatomy and function of these ligaments is important in order to  identify the mechanisms of ankle instability and to formulate an effective treatment strategy.

Causes of Recurrent Ankle Instability

Recurrent ankle instability often stems from a history of ankle sprains, particularly lateral ankle sprains, which commonly result from inversion injuries (rolling the ankle outward).

Ankle sprain while jogging

The primary cause is due to inadequate healing or severe stretching of the ligaments following an initial ankle sprain.

Factors such as poor rehabilitation, returning to activities too soon, or neglecting to address underlying biomechanical issues can contribute to ongoing instability. Additionally, anatomical variations, muscle weakness, and proprioceptive deficits may predispose individuals to recurrent ankle sprains.

Common factors contributing to ankle instability may include:

  • Incomplete Healing: Inadequate rehabilitation or premature return to activity following an initial ankle sprain can compromise ligament healing and predispose individuals to recurrent instability.
  • Anatomical Factors: Variations in ligament laxity, foot alignment (such as high arches or flat feet), and bone structure may increase susceptibility to ankle instability.
  • Muscle Weakness and Imbalance: Weakness or imbalance in the muscles surrounding the ankle joint, particularly the peroneal muscles on the outer side of the lower leg, can impair dynamic stability and increase the risk of recurrent sprains.
  • Joint Hypermobility: Excessive joint laxity or hypermobility, often seen in individuals with certain connective tissue disorders, may contribute to chronic ankle instability.

These factors can create a cycle of instability, leading to repeated episodes of ankle injury and ongoing functional impairment.

Symptoms and Clinical Presentation of Chronic Ankle Instability

Individuals with recurrent ankle instability often experience a sense of “giving way” or instability, especially during weight-bearing activities or when walking on uneven surfaces. Swelling, pain, and stiffness may accompany these episodes, with some individuals reporting a feeling of “looseness” in the ankle joint.

Diagnosis of Recurrent Ankle Instability

The diagnosis of recurrent ankle instability typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional, which may include:

  • Medical History: A detailed history of previous ankle injuries, symptoms, and functional limitations is essential for understanding the patient’s condition and guiding treatment decisions.
  • Physical Examination: A thorough examination of the ankle joint, including assessment of range of motion, stability testing, and evaluation of ligament integrity, is performed to identify signs of instability.
  • Imaging Studies: X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound may be used to assess for underlying structural abnormalities, ligamentous laxity, or soft tissue damage.

Based on the findings from the assessment, the healthcare provider can determine the appropriate course of treatment tailored to the individual patient’s needs and injury severity.

What are the Treatment Options for Ankle Instability?

The management of recurrent ankle instability aims to restore stability, improve function, and prevent future injury recurrence.

Conservative Management:

  • Ankle bracing or taping to provide external support and stability.
  • Intensive Physiotherapy to strengthen muscles, improve proprioception, and enhance ankle stability.
  • Orthotics or shoe modifications to address biomechanical abnormalities and reduce stress on the ankle joint.

Surgical Intervention:

Surgical treatment options are typically considered for patients who fail to respond to conservative measures or who have significant ligamentous insufficiency requiring surgical reconstruction.

  • Ligament Reconstruction: Surgical repair or reconstruction of the damaged ligaments, often using autograft or allograft tissue, aims to restore stability and function to the ankle joint.
  • Ankle Arthroscopy: Minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques may be employed to address intra-articular pathology, such as loose bodies or cartilage lesions, contributing to instability.
  • Tendon Transfer: In cases of severe ligamentous laxity or irreparable ligament damage, tendon transfer procedures may be performed to augment ankle stability and prevent recurrent sprains.

Rehabilitation Following Surgery

Postoperative rehabilitation plays a crucial role in optimising outcomes and promoting functional recovery following surgical intervention for recurrent ankle instability. The rehabilitation protocol typically includes:

  • Immobilisation Phase: Initially, the ankle may be immobilised in a cast or brace to protect the surgical repair and facilitate initial healing.
  • Progressive Weight-Bearing: Gradual progression to weight-bearing activities, guided by a physiotherapist, helps restore normal gait mechanics and functional strength.
  • Range of Motion Exercises: Gentle stretching and range of motion exercises help improve joint mobility and prevent stiffness.
  • Strength and Proprioceptive Training: Progressive strengthening exercises targeting the ankle, foot, and lower leg muscles, as well as proprioceptive training drills, are essential for enhancing joint stability and neuromuscular control.
  • Functional Rehabilitation: Sport-specific or functional exercises are introduced to simulate real-life situations and activities, this will ensure that the ankle is up to the challenges of daily life, and reduce the risk of any further injury or problems.

Our surgeons at LBO have developed very good links with some of the best Physiotherapists in London, and will refer to you someone they know will give you the best possible care and service.

Prevention strategies to avoid developing recurrent ankle instability:

  • Engaging in ankle-strengthening exercises and balance training to improve joint stability and proprioception.
  • Gradually returning to activities following an ankle sprain, with appropriate rehabilitation and support.
  • Wearing supportive footwear and using ankle braces during high-risk activities or sports.
  • Addressing any underlying biomechanical issues or muscle imbalances through targeted interventions.


Recurrent ankle instability can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life and predispose them to further injury. However, with proper diagnosis, timely intervention, and comprehensive rehabilitation, individuals can effectively manage symptoms and reduce the risk of developing chronic instability.

A multidisciplinary approach involving an orthopaedic specialist, physiotherapist, and other healthcare professionals is essential for optimising outcomes and restoring ankle function.

London Bridge Orthopaedics

At London Bridge Orthopaedics we have three exceptional Foot and Ankle Surgeons, who all have vast experience in treating chronic ankle instability. They will ensure that you receive the best possible care and will talk you through all the options that are available, before deciding on the right course of action for your individual needs.

If you would like to book an appointment, please call our booking line on 0203 576 5296 or use our online Booking Form. If you need to book a follow up appointment with your consultant, please call their individual secretary (details can be found on their profile page)

We are covered by all of the usual insurance companies, and we also see self pay patients.

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