Thousands of people are increasing their risk of chronic ankle problems by underestimating the impact of sprains, according to foot scientists.
Podiatrists at the University of Salford say sprains, picked up in sports like football, often need more attention than people think and if left uncorrected could predispose individuals to develop repeated ankle problems.
Following a sprain, up to 70% of individuals develop lasting symptoms such as the ankle feeling unstable or starting to giving way and are vulnerable to recurrent sprains.
The research in the Journal of Ultrasound Medicine, using ultrasound scanning techniques, found differences in ligament size between those that have had ankle sprains and those who have not.
People developing chronic instability generally had longer, thicker anterior talofibular ligaments than people with healthy ankles.
Dr Chelsea Starbuck, who leads a series of ankle studies in the university’s School of Health & Society, said: “Once the pain of a sprain eases off people tend to treat their ankles as fully recuperated. However, sometimes there are underlying weaknesses or functional deficits which can augment with repeated twists.
“It is still unclear why some individuals develop long term symptoms, yet others do not.”
As part of that mission, the team is welcoming volunteers who have had an ankle sprain in the past two years. Volunteers will undergo an ultrasound scan and have their ability to perform functional tasks assessed with a 3D motion capture programme.
The team says that improving understanding of the causes and characteristics of ankle instability will help in the development of remedies such as shoe design and orthotic supports to prevent sprains.
One possible remedy for instability are supportive ankle-collars. Added Dr Starbuck: “We don’t know how these perform but have been commissioned to carrying out a project with New Balance to test a prototype shoe which features a flexible ankle-collar to support the ankle joint.”