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The Short Leap From an Ankle Sprain to Chronic Ankle Instability

The Short Leap From an Ankle Sprain to Chronic Ankle Instability

Each day — yes, day — in the United States, about 25,000 people sprain an ankle. Whether it’s an unglamorous misstep off a curb or a more admirable jump shot gone bad, sprained ankles are one acute injury to which you need to pay close attention. Up to 40% of ankle sprains turn into chronic problems in the joint.

As a specialist in ankles, William Schell, MD, understands all too well how a seemingly simple sprained ankle can turn into chronic ankle instability that can plague you long into the future.

Here, we share some of that information to underscore the importance of getting the right care for your sprained ankle from the get-go.

What happens when you sprain an ankle

A sprain occurs when ligaments — connective tissues that join bone to bone — are stretched or torn. Depending upon the degree of the damage, ankle sprains are graded from 1-3:

For more detailed information on grading ankle sprains, check out this previous blog post.

Your ankle features several ligaments, but the ones that are most often in the line of fire when it comes to sprains are on the outside of your ankle — the anterior talofibular and calcaneofibular ligaments. Far less commonly, you can stretch or tear the deltoid ligament on the inside of your ankle.

How an acute ankle sprain becomes chronic

There are several reasons why acute ankle sprains evolve into ongoing problems with symptoms that include:

First, if you don’t address the original sprain properly, you run the risk of the ankle not healing well. What we mean by not addressing the problem properly is not seeking our help. When you come in with a sprained ankle, we can determine the degree of the sprain and then come up with a plan and timeline for optimal rehabilitation.

All too often, people just grit their teeth and hobble through the pain, pushing their ankle too soon and too hard. When you do this, the ligaments in your ankle may not get the chance to repair and restrengthen themselves adequately.

Another reason why an acute sprain can turn into chronic ankle instability is that the original sprain may involve some hidden injuries, such as damage to the bones the ligaments are connecting.

As well, if the sprain was severe, the ligaments may never bounce back and remain stretched, leaving you far more vulnerable to recurrent sprains down the road. In these cases, we can tighten the ligaments surgically.

The bottom line is that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose in coming to see us for an ankle sprain, even if you think it’s minor. This early intervention can potentially save you a lifetime of frustration with an ankle that doesn’t hold up.

For top-notch care of your sprained ankle, please contact our New York City office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Schell. Our office is located on Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side.

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