Does Ankle Ligament Surgery Fix the Ankle?

Medical illustation showing the ligaments in the ankle with inset images showing a normal ligament and three grades of tears

Alila Medical Media/Shutterstock

A recent study looked at whether surgically repairing the outside ankle ligaments (lateral) actually restored the normal way the foot and ankle should move. The outside ankle ligaments are important for stabilizing the ankle (keeping everything properly aligned) as we walk and run. As a result, the study tested the whole reason for performing surgery, restoring normal movements. However, if the surgery failed to restore those normal motions, then the surgery may actually cause problems down the road with certain parts of the ankle wearing out faster due to the abnormal motions. The verdict? No type of lateral ankle ligament repair restored normal motion to the foot and ankle. This is a huge problem for patients considering ankle ligament surgery and repair, because the whole concept behind the invasive surgery and extended recovery time is that the surgery will restore normal motion to the unstable ankle and allow the patent’s ankle to be used like it was before the injury. As a result of these and other research findings, we frequently council patients to consider non-surgical options for an ankle ligament tear. This is especially true when the ankle has intact ligament fibers (a partial tear or a full thickness tear without retraction). Non-surgical treatment can often be performed through a needle without the need for surgery. We feel this approach is better, as any approach that involves artificially suturing or replacing parts of the ankle ligaments (as the above study reveals), doesn’t restore the normal motion. We’ve seen patients report success when the patent’s own stem cells are injected into the ankle ligament tear using either x-ray or ultrasound guidance to ensure the stem cells get to the right spot in the ankle ligament tear. In summary, the vast majority of patients we speak to believe that the research supports that surgery is the best option for the ankle ligament injury, however, we believe the research support for this invasive approach is still lacking.

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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