PT eDigest

AltWhen Your Ankle Feels Unstable

Do you suffer from repeated ankle sprains? Do you sometimes have the sense that your ankle feels as though it is rolling inward when you walk? If so, you may have functional ankle instability, a condition in which the ankle feels unstable even though the joint itself actually is stable. This is different from pure ankle instability, which has a mechanical cause, such as loose ligaments on the outside of the ankle that fail to support the joint properly.

People with functional ankle instability may experience a sharp pain or a feeling of looseness when they hold their ankle in a certain position. This can be caused by a problem inside the ankle joint, such as ankle arthritis or nerve damage.

How functional ankle instability develops is not completely clear. An earlier ankle sprain, even after recovery, sometimes results in a distorted perception of your ankle’s relationship to the rest of your body, leading you to experience a sensation of instability when there is none. These inaccurate sensations can affect balance and coordination, increasing the possibility of recurrent injury to the ankle. For instance, a tendency toward turning the ankle inward (inversion) can be common after a previous injury.

During activity, even activities as simple as walking, people with functional ankle instability may be unable to sense if their ankle has turned inward before stepping forward on the foot. A misstep can lead to reinjury of the ankle.

We can help with treatments that focus on reducing the tendency toward inversion and improving neuromuscular performance:

  • Taping the ankle to provide more support and help keep the foot in a neutral, rather than inverted, position.
  • Exercises to strengthen muscles around the ankle.
  • Exercises, such as standing on one foot with the eyes closed, to improve balance, and retrain and enhance coordination, reducing the risk of reinjury to the ankle.

No matter what treatment you receive for your functional ankle instability, we can create a regimen of exercises to make your ankle feel more stable, relieve pain and tenderness, and improve your ankle’s health. With our support and your patience and persistence, you will feel more comfortable as you pursue your normal daily activities.