Ankle fusion, which is the common term for ankle arthrodesis, is a procedure that helps to reduce pain caused by arthritis of the ankle. When you have arthritis, regardless of where it is in the body, it causes pain, inflammation, and swelling of the ankle joint.
This is due to the cartilage over the bone and joint wearing away. When moving or putting pressure on the ankle, the pain can worsen, though you may experience it at any time. The main goal in treating it with ankle fusion is to reduce the pain.
Who Are Candidates For Ankle Fusion?
While anyone with arthritis of the ankle can get ankle fusion, it is usually for people who have tried other conservative treatments first. If you are diagnosed with this type of arthritis, your doctor will typically recommend trying non-surgical treatments first.
Depending on the severity of your arthritis, these might work temporarily to relieve the pain, prolonging the time before needing ankle fusion surgery. For example, you might be advised to try the following first:
- Taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers.
- Limiting your activity.
- Getting steroid injections in the affected joints.
- Using canes and other mobility aids.
- Wearing a brace on the ankle.
- Getting custom-made orthotic shoes.
If you have severe arthritis, these types of treatments might not be effective. In that case, your doctor may decide you are a good candidate for ankle fusion.
What Happens During the Ankle Fusion Procedure?
You are usually sedated during an ankle fusion procedure for your comfort and pain-free purposes. Once you are completely sedated or asleep, your Pensacola orthopedic surgeon begins the procedure by making a series of incisions around the ankle.
These small incisions are the entry point to insert instruments to access the ankle joint. This is called ankle arthrodesis, where camera and instruments are used for a less-invasive procedure. In some cases, a bone graft might be needed for the infusion, which would be done first by taking bone from the knee or heel.
If there is still cartilage around the joint, it is removed in order to access the joint and bone. Metal hardware is used to hold the bones and let them heal. The hardware also helps keep the ankle in the right position during the fusion procedure. The following steps of the procedure are as follows:
- Placing any remaining hardware, such as holding the joints together with a type of nail.
- Placing pins on the outer skin of the ankle to hold it in the right position.
- Performing x-rays to ensure the fusion and alignment is working properly.
- Closing the incisions with sutures.
- Placing splints over the ankle.
What to Expect From the Ankle Fusion Recovery Period
After you wake up from the ankle fusion procedure, you may be in some discomfort, though you will be given pain medications. You will be asked to remain in bed and keep the ankle elevated while you are still at the hospital.
You will likely notice a good deal of swelling as a result of the surgery, so you will be required to remain in bed with the ankle above your heart to reduce the swelling. You may get IV pain relievers prior to oral pain medications when you are in post-op recovery.
In order for you to resist putting weight on your affected ankle, you will be asked to use a wheelchair or cane temporarily. It could be up to two months before you resume normal activities and can bear weight on the ankle. During that time, you will return home with prescriptions for pain relievers and instructions on keeping the ankle elevated. You will also wear a splint and boot. When you are ready to start using the ankle, you may be placed on a physical therapy regimen to strengthen your ankle and improve its range of motion.