Ankle replacement surgery can provide significant relief for some people with chronic pain. After many months (or years) of dealing with severe ankle discomfort and swelling from arthritis or repeated injuries, having surgery to replace your ankle joint can finally make walking and other daily activities bearable again.
Still, having ankle surgery isn’t for everyone, so how do you know if it’s right for you?
Keep reading to learn more about ankle replacement surgery. Plus, find out who it benefits and what to expect before, during, and after the procedure.
When to see a doctor about your ankle pain
If you have chronic ankle pain that doesn’t get better with rest or home remedies, you may need to see a podiatrist—a doctor who specializes in problems with the feet and ankles.
A podiatrist will examine your condition and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. They can treat broken bones, prescribe medication, provide custom orthotics, and perform surgery when necessary
What is total ankle replacement, and who needs it?
Total ankle replacement surgery (also called total ankle arthroplasty) is most commonly done to treat ankle arthritis. Ankle specialists may also use it to treat a patient’s pain from repeated ankle injuries or fractures.
Arthritis develops when the cartilage that covers the bones of the ankle joint becomes thin and rough. This can happen as you age and from general wear and tear on your ankle.
The most common symptoms of ankle arthritis include:
- Ankle pain
- Trouble walking
Most people get relief from ankle arthritis symptoms with non-surgical treatments like medications, physical therapy, or orthotics. But if you still have pain even after trying these conservative treatments, your podiatrist may discuss ankle replacement surgery as an option.
Ankle replacement surgery benefits
Ankle replacement is a surgical treatment for patients with arthritis of the ankle. When done successfully, it can relieve pain and restore motion to the ankle joint.
Who should get an ankle replacement?
People with arthritis in the ankle joint or chronic ankle pain from an ankle injury are typically good candidates for ankle replacement surgery. By replacing the damaged joint, patients will see symptoms like pain and swelling get better or go away completely.
What to expect before and after the procedure
During an ankle replacement, the surgeon removes the damaged parts of the ankle and replaces them with prosthetic components made of plastic and metal.
The surgery usually takes about three hours and is typically done while the patient is under general anesthesia. Most people can go home the same day, but some may need to spend a night or two in the hospital.
How should I prepare for ankle replacement surgery?
Follow your surgeon’s orders when preparing for your procedure, and tell them about all the medicines and supplements you take (including the ones you get over the counter). They may instruct you to stop eating or drinking after a specific time the night before your surgery.
You’ll be using crutches for several weeks after surgery, so make sure your home is ready by moving any furniture or making other accommodations as needed beforehand. Also, ensure you have someone lined up to drive you home from the hospital and someone who can help you for a while with daily tasks.
What will recovery be like?
After ankle replacement surgery, your surgeon will have you use a cast or boot with crutches to keep weight off the ankle and allow the new joint to heal properly.
Once your surgeon clears you to start putting weight on your ankle again, you will do physical therapy to help strengthen your new ankle and improve your range of motion.
You will likely have significant pain right after surgery and may need pain medication for a few days. Once the initial pain subsides, you should feel less pain than before surgery.
After four to six weeks, you should be able to bear some weight on the ankle. Most people are about 75% recovered after six months and can return to regular activity in a year or less.
FAQs about ankle replacement surgery
Read on for some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from patients who want to learn more about ankle replacement and its benefits.
Who should not have ankle replacement surgery?
Ankle replacement isn’t the best option for everyone. People with ankles that are severely deformed or unstable may not benefit from ankle replacement, as well people with certain medical conditions, including:
- Bone infections
- Circulatory issues
An experienced podiatrist can assess your condition and determine if you’re a good candidate for ankle replacement surgery.
How long can you expect your total ankle replacement to last?
Ankle replacements can loosen over time, and sometimes the implant will fail, causing pain and requiring a second surgery. However, in 90% of cases, the ankle replacement will last at least ten years.
What are the risks of ankle replacement?
While complications from ankle replacement surgery are rare, they can happen. Potential risks include:
- Blot clot
- Nerve or blood vessel damage
- Problems with wound healing at the area of the incision
- Loosening or wearing down of replacement parts
What’s the difference between ankle fusion and ankle replacement?
During a fusion, a surgeon joins your ankle’s tibia and talus bones together using plates or screws. As they heal together, ankle pain will subside. Unfortunately, after the fusion, the ankle joint will no longer bend.
Although both ankle replacements and ankle fusions provide pain relief, replacements allow you to keep ankle joint flexibility. An American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society study found that after two years, people treated with ankle replacement showed equivalent pain relief and better function in their ankles than those with a fusion.
Trust the ankle experts at LMH
An experienced podiatrist can help relieve your ankle pain through medical management, physical therapy, custom orthotic inserts, and—if necessary—surgical intervention.
Logansport Memorial Hospital’s foot and ankle team has the training and expertise to help you get back on your feet. Our full-service podiatrist, Dr. Scott Marsh, can help manage your condition and is board-certified in ankle replacement surgery.