chronic ankle instability

One of the most commonly seen podiatry injuries is an ankle sprain. While normally it takes two to twelve weeks to heal, some people who’ve had repeated ankle sprains develop chronic ankle instability. While this is most common in athletes, other people can also suffer from this condition.

Chronic ankle instability is characterized by a recurring “giving way” of the outer (lateral) side of the ankle. Usually the “giving way” occurs while participating in sports or walking on uneven surfaces, but it can also happen while just standing.

People with chronic ankle instability also often complain of:

  • A repeated turning of the ankle, especially on uneven surfaces or when participating in sports
  • Persistent (chronic) discomfort and swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • The ankle feeling wobbly or unstable
  • Prone to falls due to the unstable ankle


Chronic ankle instability typically develops when an ankle sprain doesn’t fully heal or was not treated completely. When we sprain our ankle, we either tear or stretch ligament(s). Complete rest and strengthening of the muscles around the ankle are needed to prevent further problems with the ankle. Balance is often affected if not treated properly and failing to do so may result in repeated ankle sprains.

Unfortunately problems with chronic ankle sprains and instability can become a vicious cycle. If the ankle doesn’t heal properly, it’s more prone to sprains and each sprain weakens the ankle further making re-injury more probable.


At our office we’ll ask you about any previous ankle injuries and instability. We’ll examine your ankle to check for tender areas, signs of swelling, and instability of your ankle. In addition, we’ll X-ray the ankle and also order other imaging studies to accurately diagnose your condition prior to treatment.

Non-Surgical Treatment

We’ll base your treatment for chronic ankle instability on the results of your examination, imaging, and your level of activity. Non-surgical treatment may include:

  • Custom orthotics. Custom orthotics can improve balance, ankle stability, and postural control in patients with chronic ankle instability.
  • Physical therapy. We’ll refer you for physical therapy to help strengthen your ankle, improve your balance and range of motion. You can also receive specific guidance and therapy to help you get back to your regular activities and sports.
  • Bracing. An ankle brace can provide support for the ankle and keep it from turning. Bracing also helps prevent additional ankle sprains.
  • Medications. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, is often prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • MLS laser therapy. Finally, MLS laser can deliver healing light therapy directly to the injury to help heal the pain and inflammation on a cellular level. MLS laser is very effective for healing recurring injuries.

When Is Surgery Needed?

When the conservative treatments haven’t been successful or the degree of ankle instability is severe, surgery is likely the best option. Your surgeon will repair or reconstruct the damaged ligament(s). The surgeon will select the surgical procedure best suited for your case based on the severity of the instability and your activity level. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.

To make an appointment with one of our Seattle podiatrists at the Foot and Ankle Center of Lake City call us at 206-368-7000 or request an appointment online.

Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.