The ankle is one of the most injury prone areas of the body. There are over 1 million ankle injuries each year in the United States alone. It is pretty easy to see why; a simple wrong step on the pavement can cause extreme discomfort. The injury is such an issue that about 20% of sports related injuries are caused from ankle injuries. Ankle ligaments play a large part in ankle injuries as a whole.
Ankle ligaments are used to protect and stabilize the joint while allowing the ankle to move. The ligaments are so pivotal and they can easily be injured, which make them a notable issue for physicians all over the country. Many people end up just spraining their ankles, but there are those who end up tearing their ankle ligaments. It can be a very painful injury that is difficult to recover from. Plus, there is not just one type of ankle ligament tear.
Ankle Ligament Tears
There are different levels of torn ligaments. The first type is just a partial tear. The second is a full tear, but the ligament is still intact. These two injuries are the best that a patient can hope for. They are much easier to fix than the last type of torn ligament.
The worst type of ankle ligament tear is one where the ligament is completely torn and retracted. In this type, the ankle ligament will not only be completely torn, but it also will be retracted back like a rubber band. This is an extreme injury that is difficult to treat.
It can be difficult to diagnose the level of tear let alone recommend the necessary treatment plan. Many MRI reports do not fully disclose if the ankle ligament tear is retracted or not. If the healthcare professional does not have the correct information then there is no chance they can make the correct recommendation. A lot of healthcare professionals just read the report and do not look at the images themselves. That is one of the many reasons why patients receive unnecessary ankle ligament surgery.
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Do you need surgery?
Many patients actually do not need ankle ligament surgery in order for their ankle ligaments to return to normal function. A ten year study of ankle ligament injuries concluded that a majority of ankle ligament ruptures can be managed without surgery. Patients can manage and may even do better if they pursue non-surgical treatment options. Healthcare professionals are quick to recommend surgery as soon as they have diagnosed an ankle ligament rupture.
The only patients that need surgery are patients that have completely torn their ankle ligament and it is retracted as well. There are no other methods besides surgery to repair this type of injury. Hopefully other methods will be developed in the future, but as of today nothing will work other than surgery for this type of ankle ligament tear.
Only part of the patient population that experiences a torn ankle ligament that is also retracted. But, patients are backed into a corner if physical therapy has done little for their ankle ligaments. They do not know what else to do. Many patients are pushed into surgery by medical professionals who believe that surgery is the only option.
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One of the most common methods for ankle ligament surgery is to drill holes in the ankle bones. After that surgeons use tendons to replace the ligaments that are damaged. As with any intense surgery, there are bound to be complications. Some of the nasty complications include nerve damage and additional surgery.
One of the biggest concerns for most patients is how long the recovery time is. For athletes, a recent study showed that they were able to return to personal training in about two months. After three months, they were able to return to team training and after four months they were able to return to competitive play. That is a long time to be out on the sidelines.
Thankfully, there are new therapies that are being developed to repair ankle ligaments instead of surgery.
Surgery is not the only method for repairing torn ankle ligaments. Stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) are new and exciting treatment options that patients can explore instead of surgery. Stem cell injections can encourage the ankle ligament to heal on its own without the need for any intervention.
Once the stem cells are injected into the problematic area, they go straight to work. The stem cells are able to transform into the right ligament cells and release the proper chemicals and chemical signals in order to initiate healing.
A study performed at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center showed that ligaments and tendons healed better when stem cells were introduced. The stem cells created an environment where inflammation was regulated. With less inflammation, the tendons and ligaments were able to heal better. The same can be realized with ankle ligaments. If a patient’s tear is less severe, then there is a real chance that surgery can be avoided and stem cells can completely heal the ligament.
Stem cells could also be used in combination with surgery to help patients get back to their normal activities. After the ligament is properly attached from surgery, stem cell injections can lead to a faster and more complete recovery. It all comes down to the individual patient, some patients may see better outcomes for surgery while others will fair better with stem cell therapy.
Education is the name of the game. If you as a patient are unaware that there are other options besides surgery and physical therapy then you might be putting yourself through unnecessary pain. Talk with your healthcare professional about all the options you have before you settle on surgery. Your healthcare professional may just take a second look at your MRI and find that surgery was not necessary after all.