How to Keep a Sprained Ankle From Becoming Chronic Instability

A sprained ankle is no big deal, right? Maybe you know to go through the RICE — rest, ice, compression, and elevation — protocol, you take it easy, and you’re back on your feet in a few days. But if you don’t actually take care of your sprained ankle and let it heal fully, it can become a much more serious issue: chronic instability.

Dr. Marshall L. Lukoff and the rest of us at Foot Care Specialists are interested in all things feet, and we also know the possible problems that can arise from not letting a sprained ankle recover the way it’s meant to. Here are our tips for keeping a sprained ankle from becoming a serious, lifelong condition.

What is chronic instability?

Chronic instability is a condition that often occurs after an ankle sprain didn’t go through the full rehabilitation process and completely heal. Some of the symptoms of this condition are pain, tenderness, consistent swelling and discomfort, shaky or unsteady feelings in the ankle, and consistent turning of the ankle when participating in physical activities or walking on an uneven area. 

Repeated sprains are also a sign of chronic instability.  

Protecting a sprained ankle from chronic instability

Knowing you have a sprained ankle is half the battle of avoiding chronic instability and other problems that can develop by continuing to walk, work, and play on a sprained body part. There are three types of ankle sprains, but even the least troublesome, which causes only minimal pain, tenderness, swelling, and no problems bearing weight, can lead to chronic instability if not cared for properly. 

More severe sprains have an even higher chance of causing this problem. So, if you know you have an ankle sprain, what can you do to avoid chronic instability issues?

  • Use the RICE regimen but remember not to abandon it after a few minutes or even a few hours.
    • Spend as much time off your feet as you can for the first 24-48 hours after the sprain.
    • Use ice on the ankle for 15-20 minutes, then remove it. You can continue to do this at least 3-5 times a day, and make sure to use a towel to cover the ice pack so you don’t harm your skin with direct contact.
    • Use bandages or an ankle sleeve to compress the ankle. Don’t wrap your bandage too tightly.
    • Elevate your ankle as much as you can for the first 24 hours. Try to keep your ankle elevated to the same level of your hip while sitting down.
  • Avoid doing anything that could increase the swelling. This means no hot showers, no warming packs, and no steam rooms or hot tubs, even if it feels good.
  • Using over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce swelling and help you heal faster.
  • After the first rest period, try some exercises to help you improve range of motion and balance as well as strengthening exercises to help your ankle get its full range of abilities back.
  • Finally, make sure you visit your primary doctor or a trained podiatrist. After all, your ankle sprain may be much worse than you realize, and you shouldn’t put yourself in a position where you’re saying, “If only I hadn’t put this off …”

Avoid chronic instability by caring for your sprained ankle

Not everyone rushes out to see a doctor because of an ankle sprain, so if you decide to care for your sprain at home, we understand. Still, we feel it’s best to find out the severity of the condition and to know exactly what treatment methods and exercises will help you get back to fighting fit. 


Contact us at 617-479-7921 for our Quincy or Dedham offices, or you can book an appointment online to visit Dr. Lukoff and the rest of us at Foot Care Specialists. 

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