The ankle joint is a complex structure of bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. As we age, our joints suffer, and over time, these joints can become damaged from arthritis or other conditions. Ankle replacement surgery may be recommended when the ankle joint is severely damaged and can no longer be repaired.
Ankle replacement surgery involves replacing a patient’s ankle joint with an implant. This surgery is typically performed when all nonsurgical options have been exhausted or when imaging shows that the ankle joint is beyond repair and severely damaged.
What is Ankle Replacement Surgery?
The surgical procedure itself is relatively straightforward. First, the damaged ankle joint is removed. Next, the ankle implant is put into place. The incision is then closed up, and the patient is placed in a splint or cast to allow for healing.
Ankle replacement surgery is not a light undertaking and is a serious surgery; however, it has a high success rate, with 90% of patients comfortable at the 10-year mark. The main risks and complications associated with ankle replacement surgery are infection, blood clots, and nerve damage.
Patients who undergo ankle replacement surgery can expect a long recovery process. It can take up to 6 months for the ankle to fully heal and for patients to regain their full range of motion. The first few weeks after ankle replacement surgery will be the most difficult as patients adjust to their new ankle joint.
Nonsurgical treatment options for ankle pain
Before ankle replacement surgery is recommended, orthopedic surgeons will often want to try alternative, nonsurgical treatments (unless imaging is conclusive for surgery). These nonsurgical treatments will not fix the joint but are designed to limit the amount of pain the patient feels and can slow the degradation of the ankle joint. Steroid injections and pain medication can limit pain, while shoe inserts make daily movement more comfortable. Some doctors may also recommend arthroscopic debridement – a minimally invasive surgery in which the doctor cleans out the ankle joint to remove any debris or damaged tissue.
Other nonsurgical options include:
– Physical therapy
– Steroid injections
– Orthotic devices
What is the Recovery Process for Ankle Replacement Surgery?
The recovery process for ankle replacement surgery is straightforward but time-consuming. The entire recovery process takes approximately a year, but patients can place their weight on their foot within 2 to 3 months. Most patients will need to wear a protective walking boot for the first 6-8 weeks after surgery. Each stage will lead to a progression of activity level so that patients will become more and more active.
The stages are:
– Stage 1: Wearing the boot and using a recovery guide.
– Stage 2: Removing the boot and starting ankle range of motion exercises.
– Stage 3: Strengthening ankle muscles with physical therapy.
– Stage 4: Returning to normal activities.
To determine when patients can use their ankle in various situations and settings, the physician will perform X-rays to determine how well the ankle is healing. Lots of rest is in order when recovering. It is essential to follow your doctor’s instructions, keep the area clean, take all medication as requested, and limit activity. When the recovery process has finished, people often report feeling immense pain relief and do not need to continue with steroid injections of pain medication.
Not everyone is a candidate for ankle surgery. Certain risk factors can contribute to ankle surgery not being the best option. These include:
– Poor blood circulation
– Ankle infection
– Severe arthritis
Ankle replacement surgery is not always the optimal solution, but it can bring significant pain relief to those who are good candidates. We have physicians specializing in orthopedic surgery and can diagnose your ankle pain. Our orthopedic surgeons will review your ankle pain symptoms and use diagnostic images to determine the best solution for you.