When your ankle arthritis gets to the point where your pain can't be controlled by wearing orthotic devices or using pain medications, your podiatrist might recommend ankle surgery. Here's a look at how ankle replacement surgery helps arthritis pain and how the surgery is done.
How Ankle Replacement Surgery Helps Arthritis
Your ankle is able to move because there is a padding of cartilage between the bones in your lower leg and foot. When you have arthritis, the cartilage wears away, and as the cushion gets smaller, your ankle pain increases. Eventually, the cartilage may be so worn away that nonsurgical treatments no longer help with pain. Ankle replacement surgery solves this problem by replacing your cartilage with a plastic pad that cushions the bones in your ankle. This allows your ankle to maintain normal range of motion without pain.
How Ankle Replacement Surgery Is Done
You'll probably need a short hospital stay for this type of surgery, and your doctor might perform it using a nerve block rather than general anesthesia. The doctor makes incisions in your ankle to reach the bones and cartilage. The damaged tissues are removed, and the bones are tipped in metal so that they glide over the plastic cushion that replaces the cartilage. The length of time you stay in the hospital depends on how your recovery progresses, but it's usually just a few days. During your hospital stay, you'll be taught to walk on crutches or another mobility device so you can get around without putting weight on your ankle. You'll probably wear a surgical boot and be sent home with instructions to rest for several days to allow your incision time to heal.
How Long It Takes To Recover
It takes several months to recover from ankle replacement surgery. During this time, your doctor will monitor your progress and let you know when you can start walking without your crutches and when you can return to work. You may need to take off from work for several weeks depending on the type of work you do. Since your ankle is under a lot of pressure when you bear weight and walk, you don't want to rush your recovery, as doing so could interfere with healing. You may go to physical therapy to learn ankle exercises that increase your ankle's strength and range of motion, but it will probably be several weeks before you can return to all of your previous activities.
One major benefit of having an ankle replacement over other types of ankle surgery is the bones aren't fused together so you can move your ankle normally once it's healed. This means you should be able to resume an active lifestyle in time and be free of ankle pain.