Anterior Ankle Impingement Exercises
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Anterior Ankle Impingement is a broad term to describe different causes of pain in the front of the ankle joint. The anterior ankle joint is primarily made of 3 different bones; the talus, lateral and medial malleolus. A capsule surrounds the joint, and numerous soft tissue structures such as tendons, ligaments and nerve endings overlap. If any of these structures become irritated or painful, it is called an Anterior Ankle Impingement.
The symptoms of Anterior Ankle Impingement are typically slow and progressive rather than an acute onset. There is often clicking at the front of the ankle when walking or rotating the foot. It is painful to walk on uneven surfaces or uphill as this closes down the front of the ankle leading to a pinching sensation. It is common for there to be no swelling at the front of the ankle, and in most cases, there is no bruising either.
Running and jumping are often painful, while pressing on the front of the ankle joint can be painful. Symptoms are eased by plantarflexing the foot.
Repetitive overuse of the front of the ankle can irritate the soft tissue structures in this area leading to pain and irritation. This is often seen in runners, footballers (Footballers’ ankle) and ballet dancers. Constant use of these structures leads to inflammation and irritation of the tendons and ligaments in the area.
Continued irritation of the front of the ankle can lead to the development of a bony spur or osteophyte on one of the joint’s bones. The formation of these structures leads to mechanical impingement when the joint is closed in dorsiflexion, as the osteophyte can pinch the surrounding structures. A bone healing can also cause osteophyte formation from a fracture as the body creates an excess amount of new bone as part of the healing process.
Scar tissue can form in the front of the ankle, reducing the space for the joint to move and causing an impingement. This is often secondary to an ankle surgery such as an ankle stabilisation after a dislocation. In other cases, cartilage lesions or osteochondral defects can cause pain in the front of the ankle when walking.
In rare cases, some people have an accessory ligament on the front of the ankle called Bassett’s ligament, which is an extension of the AiTFL ligament. In ankle dorsiflexion, the ligament can impinge with the talar dome.
An Anterior Ankle Impingement can be diagnosed by a Physical Therapist using clinical tests following a clinical interview. Based on your symptoms, they can identify a pattern of pain and then carry out an Anterior Ankle Impingement test that involves the therapist dorsiflexing and externally rotating the ankle; pain provocation is indicative of a positive test.
An MRI is the best form of imagining for an Anterior Ankle Impingement as it provides information on soft tissue structures and the integrity of the joint. It is essential to get the complete picture of all of these structures as there can be multiple causes of Anterior Ankle Impingement. We don’t tend to use ultrasound for the diagnosis of Anterior Ankle Impingement, and an x-ray can be helpful to detect an osteophyte, but it cannot detect any soft tissue changes.
A significant amount of the pain from an Anterior Ankle Impingement derives from inflammation when the soft tissue structures are pinched at the front of the ankle. We recommend the following measures to reduce your pain levels at home.
A Physical Therapist is in an excellent position to treat an Anterior Ankle Impingement. In the initial stages, reducing pain and the critical aggravators of your symptoms is essential. They might tape your ankle for extra support and recommend a heel lift or ankle brace for additional stability. After this, they will prescribe strength and mobility exercises to address imbalances and strength deficits in the ankle and lower leg. This should be a very graded rehabilitation protocol. It’s not unusual to have discomfort as you progress through the early rehabilitation phases.
Once strength and balance have improved, hopping and plyometric exercises are typically introduced and sport-specific rehabilitation. For instance, if you are a keen runner, this may involve a running gait analysis or a volleyball player; they will assess your stability when changing direction at speed.
In some instances, Physical Therapy can struggle to reduce the pain levels associated with Anterior Ankle Impingement and an injection is required. In this instance, an ultrasound-guided steroid injection can reduce the inflammation within the joint. A period of 1-2 weeks in a boot can help optimise the effect of the injection if it is successful, a period of 4-6 weeks.
In cases where an injection is unsuccessful due to osteophyte formation or scar tissue impingement, then surgery can be recommended. This is usually an arthroscopy to clean the joint and is followed by 6-12 weeks of Physical Therapy. These are usually successful procedures with a high return rate to normal function.
This is not medical advice. We recommend a consultation with a medical professional such as James McCormack. He offers Online Physiotherapy Appointments for £45.
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