Chronic Ankle Instability

Healthy, strong, and pain-free ankles are critical for almost every activity. Work, sports, hiking, outdoor exploration—all these and more require stable and reliable footing all day long. Without that support, even mundane physical activities start to feel like major injury risks.

If you’ve had a history of multiple ankle sprains, or if your ankles are chronically in pain or always feel like they’re about to give way, it’s likely you have chronic ankle instability.

This problem will not get better on its own. If you do nothing, it will only get worse. Fortunately, we are able to help.

Signs You May Have Chronic Ankle Instability

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of this condition include:

  • Ankles that feel wobbly or unstable, especially on the outer edge.
  • Ankles that frequently turn or give way during activity or on uneven surfaces.
  • Frequent swelling, tenderness, and/or pain in the ankle.

Ankle instability can often be diagnosed via a simple physical examination and a discussion with Dr. Pilling about your symptoms and injury history. That said, we may recommend additional diagnostic imaging tests to determine the extent of the soft tissue damage and/or rule out any ankle fractures.

Why Do Ankles Become Unstable?

Most people with chronic ankle instability have had multiple ankle sprains in the past. However, you can develop ankle instability after just one sprain if the initial injury was not able to heal properly, or was not fully rehabilitated appropriately.

When you sprain your ankle, the ligaments that support and stabilize the joint become overstretched or torn. Treating the sprain properly requires allowing the body to repair the damage, and faithfully performing your rehab exercises to regain full strength and flexibility before you resume high-intensity activities.

If this is not accomplished properly, or you suffer multiple sprains, the torn ligaments may remain “stretched out” and weakened even after healing. Unfortunately, this can be the start of a vicious downward spiral, in which an unstable ankle results in even more frequent ankle sprains, which further destabilizes the joint.

man with ankle wrapped on a hike

Treatment for Chronic Ankle Instability

The big treatment decision is whether your chronic ankle instability can be treated conservatively, or whether surgery is necessary or preferred. Our recommendation will be based on the severity of the instability, and potentially other factors such as your target activity level and lifestyle goals.

Nonsurgical treatment typically means going through a structured physical therapy program designed to improve ankle strength, flexibility, and range of motion while “re-training” your muscles. This may be augmented by the use of:

  • Wearing an ankle brace to keep your ankle from turning or excessively wobbling and reduce the risk of additional sprains.
  • Wearing custom orthotics to provide additional stability and support to your feet and help you maintain good lower body biomechanics.

If the instability is too severe to address with conservative treatment, or the initial attempts at conservative treatment fail, surgery to repair and reconstruct the damaged ligaments may be recommended instead.

There are several possible surgical procedures we may consider depending on your specific circumstances, but the good news is that long-term success rates are very high for those who follow their post-surgical guidelines as directed. We will of course provide you with detailed instructions, and will happily answer any questions or concerns you have both during and anytime after your appointment.

Give Your Ankles the Stability They Need

Don’t let ankle instability keep you from enjoying your physical activities—but don’t just press forward and ignore the problem, either! Professional treatment is critical if you want to be able to return to your lifestyle safely and comfortably, and greatly reduce your risk of continued pain and injury.

To request an appointment with Dr. Cory Pilling and the team at Canyon Foot and Ankle, contact us online or dial your preferred office directly:

  • Twin Falls: (208) 733-0436
  • Burley: (208) 678-2727

Twin Falls Office

Burley Office

382 Overland Ave
Burley, ID 83318


Tue and Thu: 8:30am – 4:30pm