If you have arthritis in your ankle and you have problems with pain and mobility, your doctor may say it's time to consider a total ankle replacement. If you've tried wearing a brace and taking other measures to control your condition, but you still have trouble staying mobile and free from pain, surgery is often a last-resort treatment that can help.
With a total ankle replacement, your damaged ankle joint, which is the source of your pain, is removed. Then a new artificial joint is put in its place. Here's how the surgery works.
You May Prepare With Physical Therapy
Your ankle will be immobilized after your joint replacement surgery, so your doctor may want to get your foot, ankle, and leg in good shape before the procedure by sending you to physical therapy. You'll probably have physical therapy after the surgery too, but exercising before surgery has its benefits.
Plus, since you'll need to stay off of your foot after surgery, your physical therapist can teach you before your operation how to use crutches or a knee walker to stay mobile without bearing weight on your ankle. In addition, a physical or occupational therapist can tell you how to arrange your home so you can recover safely while you have limited mobility.
A Total Ankle Replacement Requires A Hospital Stay
An ankle replacement usually requires a hospital stay because it is essential that your foot stays properly elevated right after surgery. Also, it's important that you'll be able to use your walker or crutches so you can get around before you're allowed to go home.
The length of your hospital stay depends on how fast you recover and get mobile. If it looks like you won't be able to go home and take care of yourself, your doctor might recommend you go to a skilled nursing facility for recovery and rehab before you go home.
The Surgery Replaces Your Ankle Joint
To do a total ankle replacement procedure, your doctor makes an incision along the top of your ankle to reach your joint. You might also have an incision along the side of your ankle. Your old damaged tissue is removed and your bones prepped for the new joint. An artificial ankle joint consists of metal pieces that are attached to the end of the bones on each side of the joint, and a plastic implant that's placed between them.
This creates the effect of a new joint that allows your bones to glide on the plastic implant so you have full range of motion of your ankle. This is different from another type of ankle surgery that fuses the joint so you're no longer able to move your ankle up and down.
An important part of healing after the surgery is keeping the ankle immobile, so you'll go home with a boot or cast in place. Your ankle has to heal before you begin bearing weight on it, so you won't be able to walk for a period of weeks. After that, you'll begin progressive strengthening exercises with physical therapy so you regain full mobility in your ankle while experiencing less pain.