Purpose: Biological tissues such as ligaments exhibit viscoelastic behaviours. Injury to the ligament may induce changes of these viscoelastic properties, and these changes could serve as biomarkers to detect the injury. In the present study, a novel instrument was developed to non-invasive quantify the viscoelastic properties of the ankle in vivo by the anterior drawer test. The purpose of the study was to investigate the reliability of the instrument and to compare the viscoelastic properties of the ankle between patients suffering from ankle sprain and controls. Methods: Eight patients and eight controls participated in the present study. The reliability test was performed on three randomly chosen subjects. In patient and control test, both ankles of each subject were tested to evaluate the viscoelastic properties of the ankle. The viscosity index was defined for quantitatively evaluating the viscosity of the ankle. Greater viscosity index was associated with lower viscosity. Injured and uninjured ankles of patient and both ankles of controls were compared. Results: The instrument exhibited excellent test-retest reliability (r > 0.9). Injured ankles exhibited significantly less viscosity than uninjured ankles, since injured ankles of patients had significantly higher viscosity index (8,148 ± 5,266) compared with uninjured ankles of patients (948 ± 617; p = 0.008) and controls (1,326 ± 613; p <0.001). Conclusions: The study revealed that the viscoelastic properties of the ankle can serve as sensitive and useful clinical biomarkers to differentiate between injured and uninjured ankles. The method may provide a clinical examination for objectively evaluating lateral ankle ligament injuries.
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