Management and prevention of acute and chronic lateral ankle instability in athletic patient populations

Acute and chronic lateral ankle instability occur frequently in high-demand patient populations. If not managed appropriately, patients may experience recurrent instability, chronic pain, osteochondral lesions of the talus, premature osteoarthritis, and other significant long-term disability. Certain populations, including young athletes, military personnel and those involved in frequent running, jumping, and cutting motions, have a greater risk. Proposed risk factors include prior ankle sprain, elevated body weight or body mass index, female gender, neuromuscular deficits, postural imbalance, foot/ankle malalignment, and exposure to at-risk athletic activity. Prompt, accurate diagnosis is critical, and evidence-based, functional rehabilitation regimens have a proven track record in returning active patients to work and sport. When patients fail to improve with physical therapy and external bracing, multiple surgical techniques have been described with dependable results, including both anatomic and non-anatomic reconstructive methods. Anatomic repair of the lateral ligamentous complex remains the optimum standard for recurrent ankle instability, and it effectively restores native ankle anatomy and joint kinematics while preserving physiologic ankle and subtalar motion. Additional preventative measures may minimize the risk of ankle instability in athletic cohorts, including prophylactic bracing and combined neuromuscular and proprioceptive training programs. These interventions have shown benefit in patients at heightened risk for lateral ankle sprain and allow active cohorts to return to full activity without any detrimental affect on athletic performance.