How to Keep a Sprained Ankle from Becoming Chronically Unstable

If you’ve ever had an ankle sprain, you’ve got lots of company. Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries, and not just for athletes — sprains are a common injury for just about anyone, even people who lead relatively sedentary lifestyles. A single sprain, though painful, typically isn’t too serious. Most sprains heal with conservative treatment like rest, over-the-counter pain medicines, ultrasound therapy, wrapping, and ice packs to help reduce swelling. Once your sprain heals, you might need a little gentle stretching to get it back in shape. But for the most part, your ankle typically will be as good as new.

The problems start, though, when you have multiple sprains — and sometimes, if you’ve had a really bad sprain, too. In those cases, the ligaments that are damaged in a sprain don’t return to their pre-injury status. Your ankle becomes weak, leaving you open to more problems in the future, like additional sprains, falls, and even fractures. Weak ankles can also lead to problems in other areas, like your knees, hips, lower back, and leg bones. When repeated or serious sprains lead to ankle weakness, it’s a condition known as chronic ankle instability. And because it can lead to so many other potentially serious problems, it’s important to do all you can to keep it from happening.

Choose the right shoes

Lots of people think of their shoes as style statements. And it’s true, a good pair of shoes can pull an outfit together or create a look that’s all you. But if looks are the only factor you consider when selecting footwear, you’re leaving yourself open to a lot of problems with your ankles as well as your feet. A good pair of shoes provides support for your feet and your ankles, giving them the added stability they need to keep you moving comfortably while also preventing injury. On the other hand, high heels and open sandals might look good, but they don’t provide your ankles and feet with the right type of support and stability. In addition to choosing a good pair of quality shoes for everyday wear, you should also pick shoes made for any sports you take part in. Shoes designed for specific sports provide your feet and ankles with the right amount of support based on the forces and strains that occur during those activities. It’s easy to see how an investment in good athletic footwear is also an investment in better ankle and foot health.

Watch where you’re walking (or running)

If you’re physically active, another important consideration is the terrain. Walking and running on uneven ground or paths that are covered in loose gravel or sand are far more likely to interfere with movement and stability, and that means you’ll be setting yourself up for sprains and other injuries. Even if you’re just walking around, it’s important to keep an eye on what’s around you. A single misstep or a rock in the pathway could cause you to twist your foot and your ankle, resulting in a sprain or even a fracture.

Treat foot problems as soon as they occur

A corn or callus may not seem like a big deal, but the discomfort it causes can alter the way you walk, throwing off your balance and increasing your risk for twists and falls. Getting prompt medical care for any type of foot problem is important not only for getting relief for painful symptoms right now but also for preventing sprains and ankle instability in the future.

Keep your ankles strong and flexible

Strong ankles are stable ankles, and stable ankles are important for preventing injuries and for healing faster when an injury does occur. Always warm-up before any type of activity — even your daily walk. And spend some time stretching your ankles and feet on a regular basis to keep the ligaments, tendons, and muscles healthy and strong. If you've had a sprain in the past, or if you're prone to sprains and foot problems, a physical therapist can provide you with specific exercises to correct underlying gait problems while also improving strength and flexibility of the joint.

At The Frazier Foot and Ankle Clinic, we help patients get the care they need not only to treat current problems, but also to keep problems from happening in the future. If you’re prone to sprains or other foot and ankle issues, we can help. Take the first step toward a healthier future, and book an appointment online today.

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