What You Should Know About Ankle Arthroplasty (Ankle Replacement)

26 January 2016
 Categories: , Blog


Arthritis can affect any joint in your body, including the small joints in your foot and ankle. Since osteoarthritis—a degenerative condition—develops slowly over time, the joint pain and stiffness get worse. The pain and reduced range of motion associated with rheumatoid arthritis—an autoimmune disease—can be debilitating as well.

Doctors normally recommend non-surgical treatments, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, losing weight if necessary, or wearing an ankle lacer or custom-fitted leather brace, to minimize pain and prevent or slow the progression of arthritis of the foot and ankle. But if the pain eventually becomes disabling and non-surgical treatments fail to reduce the symptoms, your doctor may recommend ankle arthroplasty (ankle replacement).

When Doctors Recommend Ankle Arthroplasty

Ankle replacement not only relieves arthritis pain, it also improves your mobility, allowing you to move more easily. Restoring mobility to an arthritic joint also puts less stress on adjacent joints, decreasing the risk of developing arthritis in those joints.

Since the ankle joint is what allows you to move your foot up and down, your podiatrist may recommend ankle replacement if:

  1. Arthritis of the ankle has reached an advanced stage

  2. Osteoarthritis is so severe that bone rubs on bone and causes bone spurs to develop

  3. Arthritis pain cannot be managed and makes walking and carrying out normal activities of daily living difficult

  4. Wear and tear within the ankle joint damages the joint surfaces

  5. You are older and not as active as younger individuals who perform activities that put a lot of stress on the ankle joint

Foot and ankle surgeons generally do not recommend ankle replacement surgery for obese individuals or those with peripheral artery disease (poor blood flow) or a structural deformity, such as a severe misalignment of the bones that form the ankle joint.

What Ankle Arthroplasty Involves

Ankle arthroplasty is an inpatient surgical procedure that involves removing the cartilage and bone damaged by arthritis. The surgeon will make an incision in the front of the ankle. He or she will then place a metal and plastic prosthesis into the joint surfaces at the end of the shin bone and top of the ankle bone to restore function to the arthritic joint.

You will remain in the hospital for one or several nights following surgery. During your recovery, your foot and ankle will be immobilized in a cast or cast boot. You also must use crutches or a walker for several weeks.

Things That Can Go Wrong

While surgery isn't a cure for arthritis, your doctor may recommend ankle arthroplasty to restore function to a diseased and damaged ankle joint. But like other surgeries, ankle replacement has risks that can lead to potential complications including:

  • Infection, which may necessitate the removal of the artificial joint

  • Post-operative blood clots

  • Damage to nerves or blood vessels

  • Tendon injury

  • Bone fractures

  • Bone that fails to heal to the implant

  • Loosening of the implant's parts

Barring any complications, full recovery from foot and ankle surgery takes time—possibly up to 9 months, depending on how bad your arthritis was before the procedure. How long the replacement will last before you begin having complications depends on the type of prosthetic device the surgeon uses. Visit sites like http://www.yourfootdocs.com for more information about treating arthritis in your feet or ankles.