August 14, 2020

What is chronic ankle instability?

Foot and Ankle


Chronic ankle instability is lingering pain on the outside of your ankle that usually occurs after you suffer an ankle sprain that doesn’t heal properly. This will cause your ankle to periodically give out while you are engaging in physical activity and can often affect your balance. 

What are the parts of the ankle?

The ankle joint is made up of the two bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula) and the first bone in the foot (talus). Tendons are flexible tissue that attaches your muscles to your bones.

There are three major tendons in your ankle. The Achilles tendon runs down the back of your calf to the base of your foot. The flexor hallicus longus runs along the inside of your ankle and attaches to the big toe and your flexor digitorum runs along the inside of your ankle and attaches to your other four toes. When your tendons stretch or tear, it causes pain in the ankle.

The Ultimate Guide to Foot and Ankle Injuries

Why is my ankle unstable?

Your ankle instability most likely stems from an ankle sprain or roll that didn’t heal completely. This will cause the soft tissue between your bones to stretch or tear. 

Other causes include:

  • Torn or inflamed tendons
  • Scar tissue
  • An injured nerve
  • Arthritis in the ankle joint
  • An ankle fracture


What does ankle instability feel like?

Chronic ankle instability feels a lot like an ankle sprain. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain on the outside of your ankle
  • Tenderness around the ankle
  • The feeling your ankle is going to “give out”
  • Stiffness 
  • Chronic discomfort and swelling

How is chronic ankle instability diagnosed?

To determine whether you have chronic ankle instability, the foot and ankle doctor will ask you for a complete medical history and to describe your symptoms. The doctor will conduct a physical examination and may order  an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and determine if there are any other problems.

How do you treat chronic ankle instability?

Most of the time, chronic ankle instability is treated without surgery. The most important thing to remember is the torn ligaments in your ankle need to heal, so you need to rest from any activity that might be aggravating your pain. 

Other treatments include:

In severe cases of ankle instability, your physician may suggest chronic ankle instability surgery. This minor surgical procedure. This is done through small incisions and will allow you to go home the same day as surgery.

Reasons for surgery include:

  • Cleaning the ankle’s joint surface
  • Tightening or repairing your ligaments in your ankle
  • Removing loose fragments

Living with chronic ankle instability can be painful and unpredictable. Taking the time to rest, reduce the pain in your ankle and let your ligaments heal will restore function and help you do the activities you want to do.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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