Background: Ruptures of the lateral ankle ligaments are very common; however, treatment remains controversial. The aim of the current study was to perform a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials of existing treatment strategies for acute ruptures of the lateral ankle ligaments.
Methods: Randomized, controlled trials reported between 1966 and 1998 were included if they involved acute ruptures of the lateral ankle ligaments. Randomized, controlled trials are defined as comparative studies with an intervention group and a control group in which the assignment of participants to a group is determined by the formal procedure of randomization. Summary measures of effectiveness were expressed as relative risks with use of random effects modeling.
Results: When analyzing the trials, we searched for comparable outcome measures in both short and long-term follow-up studies (studies with six months to 3.8 years of follow-up). This resulted in the analyses of three outcome measures: time lost from work, residual pain, and giving-way. This report summarizes the results of twenty-seven trials. With respect to giving-way, a significant difference was noted between operative treatment and functional treatment (relative risk, 0.23; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.17 to 0.31) in favor of operative treatment and a significant difference was also noted between functional treatment and treatment with a cast for six weeks (relative risk, 0.69; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.50 to 0.94) in favor of functional treatment. With respect to residual pain, no significant difference was found between operative and functional treatment and a significant difference was found between functional treatment and treatment with a cast for six weeks (relative risk, 0.67; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.50 to 0.90). We found minimal or no treatment to result in more residual pain (relative risk, 0.53; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.27 to 1.02) and giving-way (relative risk, 0.34; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.17 to 0.71) than did functional treatment.
Conclusions: We concluded that a no-treatment strategy for ruptures of the lateral ankle ligaments leads to more residual symptoms. Operative treatment leads to better results than functional treatment, and functional treatment leads to better results than cast immobilization for six weeks.