Anterior Talofibular Ligament (ATFL)
Where is it painful for a client with an ATFL injury?
Classical patient features for an ATFL injury
Age: Most common between 15-24 years of age,
Gender: Females show a higher risk for an ATFL sprain compared to males
Sport: Netball, AFL, soccer, Basketball, Volleyball, ultimate frisbee, tennis, badminton, squash
Area of symptoms for an ATFL injury
– Lateral ankle // slightly anterior to the lateral malleolus
– Will commonly notice pain in the inferior section of the malleolus
– Localised and easily palpable
– Common to have an increase in generalised pain if acute and large inflammatory reaction (bruising, swelling ect)
Characteristics of symptoms for a client with an ATFL injury
– Pop may be heard at the onset.
– Pain, swelling and tenderness on the lateral ankle.
– If it is an acute incident the patient will report the symptoms very localised // will be able to touch it with their finger.
– chronic presentations will be more general over the anterolateral aspect of the ankle
– Bruising at the site of injury
– Neural signs if present will be at the sural, superficial or deep fibular nerve distribution
Typical activity capability/restriction for an ATFL injury
– Progressive with restriction with activities that require high spring loads of the lower limb
– Limitations in running,
– Difficulty weight-bearing and walking
– Decreased ankle function and range of motion
– Instability (Grade 2/3)
– Proprioception deficits may present as difficulty performing single-leg tasks
– reduced sporting performance
– inability to perform tasks with high levels of variability // especially if loaded
jumping, hopping, change of direction and acceleration
– Inhibit or reduced performance in sport
Behaviour of symptoms for a client with an ATFL injury
Agg: change of direction, inversion, uneven surfaces, landing
Ease: taping/bracing, rest, compression, ice, elevation,
24 hour pattern: Nil as mechanical
Typical history for a client with an ATFL injury
– Constitutes 10% of all acute injury presentations
– ATFL is frequently the first ligament to be compromised // ankle inversion cases have a 97% likelihood of rupture compared to 3% CFL
– Can occur in conjunction with medial ankle injuries // rare
– Swelling usually occurs immediately, although occasionally it may be delayed over several hours following the injury
Pathobiological mechanisms underlying a an ATFL injury
– Nociceptive pain mechanism
– Often compounded by a large inflammatory response
– Will have observable pro-inflammatory signs at the location of the injury
Proposed pathology for a an ATFL injury
– The most common mechanism of an ATFL injury is plantarflexion and inversion of the ankle
– This may occur with rapid change in direction, especially on uneven surfaces (grass fields etc).
– Also may occur when jumping, landing awkwardly or the ankle giving way
– An audible snap, crack, or tear may also be present
The ATFL is the weakest of the lateral ankle ligaments and is the most likely to be injured.
Grade 1 – partial tear, no laxity and mild swelling
Grade 2 – partial tear, mild laxity, moderate effusion, instability and tenderness on palpation.
Grade 3 – full tear or rupture, massive swelling, severe pain and laxity and instability of the ankle joint.
Physical impairments & associated structure/tissue sources (ie P/E findings)
– Observation – Swelling observed distal to the lateral malleolus, which may also extend to the foot. Bruising will also be present depending on the severity
– AROM – Limited in all directions secondary to pain and swelling // inversion will be the most affected and reproduce pain
Palpation – Tenderness over ATFL // common to also find tenderness in syndesmotic area and on the medial deltoid ligament
– boney assessment required to rule out fracture // Ottawa rules (high-level evidence)
Proprioception – Compare bilateral single-leg stance
Positive – Anterior drawer test (Sensitivity 96%, Specificity 84%)
Positive – Talar tilt test (ATFL bias) (Sensitivity 50%, Specificity 88%) // note percentages based on CFL not ATFL so anterior draw will hold more value
Typical contributing factors for an ATFL injury
– Increased BMI
– Reduced dorsiflexion
– Reduced eccentric strength of supinators/inverters
– Low PSR (Pronator supinator ratio)
– Reduced hip extensor strength
– Previous ankle sprains
– Reduced proprioception
– Grass / unstable surface
– Non-use of ankle braces
– Non-use of high top shoes (Basketball)
Relevant precautions/ contraindications to P/E and treatment
– Depending on irritability/severity – limiting tests and going to P1
– Need to rule out a fracture with boney assessment or send for imaging
– If significant instability tape will not be sufficient for return to play
Relevant diagnostic imaging for an ATFL injury
Ottawa rules indicate if radiographs are indicated: (high-level evidence)
- Tenderness over the medial malleolus, lateral malleolus, navicular, and/or base of the fifth metatarsal upon palpation;
- An inability to weight bear immediately following injury or during the clinical evaluation;
- The tenderness that extends 6 cm superiorly from either malleolus”
Grade 1: don’t typically require imaging
Grade 2: consider imaging (US or MRI)
Grade 3: consider imaging (US or MRI)
Indications for an MRI or CT scan
– If symptoms present for more than a week and previous radiographs inconclusive
Typical prognosis for an ATFL injury
Grade 1: Return to sports at 1 to 4 weeks. Taping is used as a means of protection and increasing proprioception
Grade 2: Return to sports at 2 to 6 weeks.
Grade 3: Return to sports at 6 to 12 weeks.
Management/treatment selection for an ATFL injury
Goals of Early management
– Manage symptoms (pain and swelling)
– Optimize ROM
– Recondition muscles (especially into inversion and eversion )
– functional exercises
– Return to sport
– After sustaining an ATFL injury compromised individuals are at increased risk of recurrence for 6-12 months
Immobilisation/restriction (high level evidence)
– Taping or bracing are common interventions for protection in the early phase
– Need to make sure no allergies or precautions for the use of tape
– Thought that tape increases proprioception at the ankle more so than reducing the range of motion
– Taping is NOT a form of rehabilitation // rationale for use during the high-risk period however rehabilitation is preferred to optimize long term management
High levels of evidence to support rehabilitation in grade 3 ATFL sprains
– compared to surgical control group there was a faster return to play times, equal stiffness and equal reinjury rates
– Due to these findings a minimum of 6-12week of conservative management is indicated
– If patient is still having instability or persistent pain after this trial surgical referral may be warranted
Differential diagnosis for an ATFL injury
– CFL // talar tilt in neutral and palpation
– PTFL //posterior draw and palpation
– Syndesmosis // compression, DF +OP, DF + eversion + OP
– Fractures // Tib/Fib/5th met/ calcaneus/ talus/greenstick
– Dislocation // history and laxity
– Chronic ligamentous instability // history and laxity
Dynamic assessment and tendon signs
– Peroneal Tendinopathy
– Tib post Tendinopathy
– Tib ant Tendinopathy
– CRPS // history, examination and exclusion
– Tarsal Coalition // imaging
– Chronic ligamentous instability
– Sinus tarsi syndrome
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