The anterior talo-fibular ligament (ATFL) is one of three ligaments that make up the lateral stabilizers of the ankle joint. Its function is to help stabilize the ankle joint in inversion and plantar flexion, and provide support with each step.
Ankle sprains are the most common type of acute sports trauma, and occur when ligaments are stretched beyond their limits and tear. The ATFL is the most commonly injured ligament during an ankle sprain. This is because when weight bearing is shifted to the lateral side of the leg, especially during high velocity sports, the ATFL is the weakest of the lateral collateral ligaments and will sustain an injury first. Around 90% of ankle sprains are related to the ATFL and symptoms include pain during weight bearing, swelling, bruising, and instability of the ankle. Sprains can also be caused by walking on uneven surfaces like when hiking, as well as wearing inappropriate footwear during sports.
To treat an ATFL sprain, one should immediately perform the R.I.C.E. protocol: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This will help with the swelling that would occur, as well as reduce pain in the area. As it becomes more manageable to bear weight on the foot, a physical therapist may introduce some strengthening and balance exercises to help stabilize the joint to recover and prevent future injuries. For athletes, once the foot is recovered well enough, specific exercises can be given to reinforce the joint and allow for a better return to activity.
ATFL injuries are common in many sports and activities but with proper management, one can quickly return to the activity that they love!