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Ankle Capsulitis

When we’re in an auto accident, there aren’t any air bags or restraint devices to protect our ankles. An ankle can easily be severely sprained or fractured. As a result, degeneration of the affected joint can develop and progress.

Development of Ankle Capsulitis

The mechanics of the ankle joint are complex. After a traumatic injury, the connective tissue surrounding the joint becomes inflamed. That tissue begins to encapsulate and “freeze” the joint. Stiffness then sets in, and chronic pain with significant loss of range of motion follow. Because we use our ankles with every step that we take, pain is often constant, particularly at night and in cold weather. Eventually, the loss of range of motion of the affected ankle can become complete.


Once ankle capsulitis manifests itself, it becomes difficult to treat. Some typical symptoms of the condition include the following:

  • Ankle swelling.
  • Ankle pain toward the back of the ankle upon movement.
  • Difficulty moving on that ankle.
  • Atrophied muscles around the ankle.
  • Frozen ankle.

Sometimes one or more of these symptoms arise after the injury victim is believed to have fully recovered from the primary sprain or fracture. That’s about the time when he or she begins phasing back into normal activity after being immobilized.

Diagnosing Ankle Capsulitis

Of course, a doctor is going to take a history and conduct a physical examination of the injury victim. The doctor will evaluate the affected ankle’s range of motion and check for atrophy of the calf muscle above the ankle, especially after prolonged immobilization. The condition is unlikely to show up on an x-ray. For the last 45 years, conventional arthrography has been the most reliable ankle capsulitis diagnostic test. When the test is performed, the diagnostic criteria that follow are typically the basis for an ankle capsulitis diagnosis:

  • Decreased joint space measurements.
  • Anterior and posterior ankle recess obliteration with soft tissue and ligament thickening.
  • Resistance to and backwashing of contrast fluid used in the arthrography procedure.

Given the fact that arthrography is an invasive procedure, it is slowly giving way to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for purposes of diagnosing ankle capsulitis. What comes to issue with diagnosing ankle capsulitis with MRIs is the lack of criteria for diagnosing the condition. A significant decrease in the amount of joint fluid in the ankle coupled with thickening of the joint capsule certainly raises the suspicion of capsulitis though.

Treating Ankle Capsulitis

As per the International Foot and Ankle Foundation for Education and Research, a clinical review of ankle capsulitis was performed. At stage one, the condition begins to get progressively painful without capsular tightness. At stage two, fibrous bands of scar tissue known as adhesions form. As the condition progresses, pain increases and range of motion decreases. Conservative treatment consists of physical therapy focusing on range of motion and mobilization. One study revealed that after eight weeks of immobilization after an ankle fracture, 10 weeks of physical therapy and mobilization techniques can bring back range of motion, strength and function of the ankle. If physical therapy isn’t successful, arthroscopic removal of damaged tissue and debris could be required. The advantages of the procedure are that it’s minimally invasive and allows for active mobilization of the ankle joint soon after surgery.

Contact a Louisville Personal Injury Lawyer

Ankle capsulitis isn’t nearly as common as shoulder capsulitis or “frozen shoulder,” but with a proper physical examination and imaging techniques, it can be diagnosed within a high degree of medical certainty. If you suffer from ankle capsulitis that is secondary to a severe ankle sprain or fracture that was caused by the carelessness and negligence of somebody else in or around Louisville, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury. Contact our offices to arrange for a free consultation and case review. We promise to advise you of all of your legal options.g

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