It’s a frightening sensation to feel your ankles wobble as you are stepping out of the car or opening the door with your arms full of groceries.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many people suffer from weak or unsteady ankles. The weakness could be caused by various conditions, including damage to the Achilles tendon or ligaments, arthritis or a fractured bone.
Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, yet it’s amazing how many people try to ‘walk it off’ and then find, years later, that they have pain and permanent damage.
Some folks are born with naturally weak ankles. Whether the condition is congenital or the result of an injury, it’s important to identify the cause. Often, it can be corrected. If it’s an inherited condition, we can show you how to strengthen and support the ankles.
Ankle Ligaments, Tendons & Bones
The most common ankle injury is a sprain that happens when the foot is twisted or turned. This can be very painful and, if not treated, can take a long time to heal—or it may never heal properly. Many adults who experienced a twisted ankle in their school days still are reminded by tenderness while they’re walking.
An ankle fracture (broken bone) can feel like a sprain. The symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness to the touch, or a distorted appearance.
The Achilles is the largest and strongest tendon in the body, linking the calf muscles with the heel bone. It plays a major role in planting the foot down while walking or running (something most of us take for granted, until it doesn’t work).
Arthritis (OsteoArthritis & Rheumatoid Arthritis) is a frequent source of ankle dysfunction. Swelling and pain from arthritis can develop years after an ankle injury— another reason why it’s important to see the doctor even after a minor ankle sprain.
If instability from arthritis doesn’t respond to conservative therapy, eventually we may advise surgery. Ankle arthroscopy is a surgical procedure that can be used to improve the alignment of bones and cartilage, or to fuse the bones that support the ankle. Arthroscopy is less invasive and means a shorter recovery time than conventional surgery, although it’s not appropriate for every patient.
Arthroscopy can also be used to remove scar tissue from an old injury. Scarring can cause stiffness and pain while the patient is walking.
Find the Source of Ankle Pain
To help diagnosis the problem, we ask about signs and symptoms. (Symptoms are what the patient feels, as opposed to signs detected by the doctor.) One sign of Achilles tendonitis is an area that is warm and tender to the touch just a few inches above the heel. If we feel a little friction when we move your ankle, that is another sign.
The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis might include aching or burning, especially in the morning when you first get out of bed. The pain increases when you exercise and eventually will hurt after just a few minutes of movement.
Even a sprained ankle needs an expert diagnosis. Pain on the inside of the ankle may indicate an injury to the ligaments or tendons that support the arch in your foot. X-rays can be used to detect fractured bones.
Once we have a good diagnosis, we can design a treatment plan. Some ankle injuries respond to pain relievers, ice, and elevating the foot on that side of the body. Wraps (compression) help control swelling.
You might also need physical therapy to protect your ankle from future injury and restore flexibility, range of motion and strength.
Depending on the type and seriousness of the injury, we have a number of options ranging from mild (conservative) treatment to full-fledged surgery. Less-traditional therapies such as injections, platelet-rich plasma and brisement can be discussed with your doctor. It’s important to have a qualified medical professional evaluate the injury and then supervise your care to prevent long-term damage.