The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Unstable: Chronic Ankle Instability

Posted by on Monday, July 16th, 2012

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I can’t ice skate. Okay, I haven’t tried too hard, but maybe some of my lack of effort is related to a certain feeling rooted in my childhood that ice-skating is not in the stars for me. One day when I was about five I went ice skating on a local pond with my father and sisters. I was struggling just to stay up and take a few steps and an adult I vaguely knew from the neighborhood said sympathetically, “Oh, you have weak ankles. That makes it hard to skate.”

Feeling bad that I was the only one on the pond who seemed unable to take a step (and I’m sure I wasn’t), I didn’t feel insulted so much as relieved. Oh, that’s why I couldn’t skate. Well, this activity is out, might as well give up. Plus it was really cold and I just wanted to go home and get the hot chocolate I had been promised. Not being able to ice skate just became part of my identity (at least I think it was mine).

Looking back, I don’t know if it all made any sense. I took dance classes and no one there had ever mentioned anything about weak ankles. And by the way, is there any such thing as weak ankles or did I just take the easy road out of skating by buying into an old wives’ tale?

No, I didn’t. There actually is a condition called “chronic ankle instability” or weak ankles, though I don’t know if I had it. So let’s learn a little bit about it today.

How do I know my ankle is weak or chronically unstable? How do I know it’s not just lazy? The most noticeable characteristic of chronic ankle instability is your foot rolling outward frequently. It typically happens when you walk or run, especially on uneven surfaces, but you may even notice it happening when you’re standing. You’ll also notice a tendency to twist your ankle, some pain, and a general feeling of weakness and instability.

Like if you’re on ice skates and can’t skate or can’t even stand? You could say that if you want to make me feel bad about giving up on skating too early.

What is making my ankles unstable? Ankle instability is usually the result of spraining your ankle a number of times and not letting it heal properly or rehab it correctly. Each time, the ligaments are stretched and weakened and don’t get a chance to strengthen themselves, thus resulting in loose, weak ligaments that can’t hold your ankle up.

Am I doomed to life with weak ankles? Will they always wobble? Or can they be saved? They can definitely be helped. A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) will be able to recommend a course of physical therapy designed to strengthen your ankles. Livestrong also has some ankle exercises here that you can try to get started. The podiatrist may also recommend custom-fit orthotics to help with the outward rolling of your foot and ankle braces to help hold up your ankle while you work on strengthening them. If rehab doesn’t help, then your podiatrist may recommend surgery to repair or reconstruct the damaged ligaments.

Will I be able to ice skate? Yes, if you must. And run, walk, and even hike without wearing two pound boots to keep your ankles stable. You’ll be able to do amazing feats of strength with your now super strong ankles.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.