Conservative Functional Treatment of Acute Fibular Ligament Rupture of the Ankle

Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2023 Jun 30;120(26):454-460. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.m2023.0118.


Background: Acute rupture of the fibular ligament complex is one of the commonest injuries in sports. Prospective randomized trials in the 1980s led to a paradigm shift from primary surgical repair to conservative functional treatment.

Methods: This review is based on publications retrieved by a selective search in PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Library for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and meta-analyses on surgical versus conservative treatment from the years 1983 to 2023.

Results: 10 of 11 prospective randomized trials of surgical versus conservative treatment conducted between 1984 and 2017 did not reveal any significant difference in the overall outcome. These findings were confirmed in two meta-analyses and two systematic reviews that were published between 2007 and 2019. Isolated benefits in the surgical group were outweighed by a variety of postoperative complications. The anterior fibulotalar ligament (AFTL) was ruptured in 58% to 100% of cases, followed by the fibulocalcaneal ligament combined with the LFTA in 58% to 85%, and the posterior fibulotalar ligament (mostly incomplete ruptures) in 1.9% to 3%.

Conclusion: Conservative functional treatment is now the standard treatment in acute fibular ligament rupture of the ankle because it is low-risk, low-cost, and safe. Primary surgery is indicated in only 0.5% to 4% of cases. Physical examination for tenderness to palpation and for stability, as well as stress ultrasonography, can be used to differentiate sprains from ligamentous tears. MRI is superior only for the detection of additional injuries. Stable sprains can be successfully treated with an elastic ankle support for a few days, and unstable ligamentous ruptures with an orthosis for 5 to 6 weeks. Subsequent physiotherapy with proprioceptive exercises is the best way to prevent recurrent injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ankle*
  • Conservative Treatment
  • Humans
  • Ligaments
  • Rupture / surgery
  • Sprains and Strains*