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Chronic Instability 

Instability happens when tissues such as muscles and ligaments weaken and no longer hold the bones of a joint in proper place. 

A joint is an articulation (junction) between two or more bones in the body. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and other soft tissue structures hold these joints in position, but damage to these tissues can cause joint instability. Chronic instability is a condition characterized by frequent or recurrent dislocation of the joint. 

Common cases of joint instability occur in the: 

  • Ankle 
  • Big toe 
  • Elbow 
  • Hip 
  • Knee 
  • Neck 
  • Shoulder 
  • Thumb 

What Causes Chronic Instability? 

There are certain factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing chronic instability. These include: 

  • An injury or hard blow to a joint 
  • Motor vehicle accidents 
  • A fall on an outstretched hand 
  • Loose ligaments 
  • Sports requiring repetitive motion, such as baseball
  • Contact sports, such as football 
  • Overuse of the joint 
  • Degenerative joint disease 

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Instability? 

The symptoms of chronic instability depend on which joint it affects. Some general symptoms include: 

  • Persistent pain with activity 
  • Tenderness  
  • An abnormal popping or crackling sound 
  • Swelling and bruising 
  • Numbness or tingling 
  • A feeling of the joint giving way 
  • Decreased range of motion 
  • Loss of joint function 
  • Visible deformity 
  • Fractures or frequent dislocations 

How Is Chronic Instability Diagnosed? 

Doctors will typically begin by reviewing a patient’s symptoms and medical history, and then performing a thorough physical examination to check for range of motion, stability and strength of the joint. If necessary, the doctor can also order certain imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, CT scan or ultrasound of the affected joint.  

How Is Chronic Instability Treated? 

The treatment of chronic instability depends on the location of the joint, with options ranging from conservative to more aggressive. Conservative treatments include: 

  • Taking anti-inflammatory drugs 
  • Icing the affected area 
  • Wearing a splint or brace 
  • Realigning the joint using closed reduction  

For chronic instability, these conservative treatments might be not be as effective as more targeted options such as stabilization surgery.