Background: The objective of this study was to investigate functional results, the amount of time that patients missed from regular working activities, and the incidence of residual mechanical ankle instability following conservative treatment of a first episode of severe lateral ankle ligament sprain (with articular instability).
Methods: This prospective and randomized study included 186 patients with severe lateral ankle ligament injuries, who were randomly assigned into 2 conservative treatment groups. In group A, participants were treated with a walking boot with weight-bearing allowed, pain management, ice, and elevation with restricted joint mobilization for 3 weeks. In group B, patients were treated with a functional brace for 3 weeks. After this period, patients from both groups were placed in a short, functional brace for an additional 3 weeks, during which they also started a rehabilitation program.
Results: No statistically significant difference was found in pain intensity score between the 2 groups; however, functional evaluations based on the AOFAS ankle and hindfoot score system showed a statistically significant improvement in the group treated with the functional brace. In addition, the average recovery period necessary for patients of group B to resume their duties was shorter than that for patients in group A. No significant difference was detected in residual mechanical ankle instability between the 2 groups.
Conclusion: Patients with severe lateral ankle ligament lesions treated with a functional brace were shown to exhibit somewhat better results than those treated with a walking boot, and both methods presented a very low incidence of residual chronic instability. We found adequate conservative treatment was sufficient to reestablish ankle stability and that functional treatment had a marginally better clinical short-term outcome with a shorter average recovery period.
Level of evidence: Level I, prospective randomized study.
Keywords: acute ankle sprain; conservative treatment; functional treatment; residual instability.