Anterior talofibular ligament injury

Anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) injury is the most common of the ligament injuries that can occur as part of the lateral ligament complex injuries 2. The injuries can comprise either soft tissue tears, avulsion fractures or both.

ATFL injuries typically occur with an inversion injury to the ankle, either with or without plantar flexion. Approximately two-thirds of ankle sprains tend to be isolated injuries to the ATFL (the ATFL is the weakest ligament in the lateral collateral complex of the ankle). There is general agreement that avulsion is more common at the fibular than the talar end of the ligament 2.

AMA classification 8,9:

  • grade I: ligament stretch
  • grade II
    • partial tear
    • partial loss of movement
    • mild to moderate joint instability
  • grade III
    • complete tear
    • inability to bear weight
    • significant joint instability

Many orthopaedists favour a functional approach based on clinical examination:

  • grade I: stable injury
    • provocative manoeuvres do not elicit increased upper ankle joint laxity
    • no ligament in the lateral complex is completely ruptured
  • grade II: unstable
    • ruptured ATFL
    • increased upper ankle joint laxity
  • grade III: unstable

There are other grading systems, of course, such as the anatomic classification or grading by clinical presentation symptoms 9.

Many show an associated avulsion fracture at either the fibular end or, less commonly, the talar end.

May show ancillary features such as an ankle joint effusion and/or overlying lateral malleolar soft tissue swelling.

Has been shown to have high sensitivity and specificity rates for chronic ATFL tears 6.

Both the anterior and posterior talofibular ligaments are usually seen on a single axial image obtained slightly distal to the tibiofibular ligaments 4.

MRI may show discontinuity, detachment, thickening, thinning, irregularity of the ligament, a bright rim sign 5 or an associated bony avulsion. Heterogeneity with increased intraligamentous signal intensity on fat-suppressed or T2-weighted images is indicative of intrasubstance oedema or haemorrhage.

  • T2
    • fluid within the joint serves to highlight the anterior talofibular ligament on T2-weighted images
    • the ligament appears as a thin, straight, low signal intensity band extending from the talus to the fibular malleolus
    • a bright rim sign (cortical defect with a bright dot-like or curvilinear high signal intensity lesion) may be seen on T2 weighted imaging

On MRI consider:

  • anterolateral impingement syndrome of ankle 4
    • repetitive synovial inflammation secondary to chronic lateral ankle instability produces a soft-tissue “mass” consisting of hypertrophic synovial tissue and fibrosis within the lateral gutter
Share article

Article information

rID: 24471
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • ATFL injury
  • Anterior talofibular ligament injuries
  • Anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) injury
  • ATFL injuries

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and figures

  • Drag
    Case 1: torn ATFL
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 2: chronic injury ATFL
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 3: chronic injury ATFL
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 4: with avulsion fragment off talus
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 5: torn ATFL with soft-tissue impingement
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Bilateral anterio...
    Case 6
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 7: torn ATFL
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 8
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 9
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 10: chronic injury with anterior talar shift
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

    Alert accept

    Error Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

    Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.