Ankle fusion surgery, also called ankle arthrodesis, is a procedure that involves surgically fusing the bones of the ankle joint. It is performed to treat severe ankle fractures that can’t be repaired with nonsurgical methods (such as corticosteroid injections), as well as chronic discomfort brought on by advanced ankle arthritis, deformity, or instability.
The procedure offers significant benefits, including pain reduction, increased joint stability, and enhanced mobility. Moreover, it allows patients to return to normal daily activities and reduces the risk of subsequent joint deterioration.
An alternative to ankle fusion surgery is the total ankle replacement procedure. To determine whether ankle replacement or ankle fusion is best for you, your orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon will consider your general health, age, and degree of exercise to choose the procedure that best suits your lifestyle and treatment objectives.
Who should have ankle fusion surgery?
Ankle fusion surgery is usually recommended when traditional therapies like physical therapy, medication, or bracing have failed to relieve chronic ankle pain brought on by arthritis, deformities, or prior injuries. Ankle arthritis may result in symptoms like excruciating pain, swelling, and stiffness that can make walking difficult.
The doctor will likely suggest ankle fusion surgery if you continuously experience severe symptoms that limit your everyday activities. Each patient must undergo a thorough evaluation by an orthopedic specialist to determine whether ankle fusion surgery is the right treatment option for them.
What to expect before the procedure?
Before having the procedure, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination. They will also order diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, to determine the extent of ankle joint damage.
You will need to stop smoking, abstain from alcohol and certain medications, and adhere to any other pre-surgical instructions provided by your surgeon to prepare for the procedure.
What to expect during the procedure?
Ankle fusion surgery can last anywhere between two and four hours, depending on the complexity of the case. It is usually performed under general anesthesia so that the patient is asleep throughout the procedure. Regional anesthesia, which numbs only the lower half of the body, may be used in some cases.
The type of ankle fusion surgery to be performed depends on the severity of the ankle condition. During ankle fusion surgery, the surgeon will make an incision in your ankle to access the joint. Ankle fusion can occasionally be carried out using a minimally invasive procedure called arthroscopy, which involves accessing the ankle joint by using smaller incisions and inserting a camera and tools into the joint.
The joint is correctly positioned after the injured cartilage is removed. The bones of the ankle joint are then fused by the surgeon using screws, plates, or rods to make a solid structure. A bone graft may occasionally be applied to help with fusion. The pelvis, the heel bone, or the area directly below the knee may be used for this graft. A cast or brace is placed on the ankle to protect it while it heals after the incision is closed using sutures.
What to expect after the procedure?
The recovery phase for the procedure may differ depending on the type of surgery and the severity of the ankle condition. After being discharged from the hospital, you should keep your ankle immobile for several weeks. This includes avoiding weight-bearing activities on the injured foot and using crutches or a wheelchair for six to twelve weeks. Your surgeon may recommend painkillers and physical therapy to manage discomfort and promote healing.
You may need to wear a cast or brace to support the ankle joint while the bones properly fuse, which could take up to six months. Additionally, you should attend follow-up appointments with your surgeon to monitor your progress and adhere to all your surgeon’s post-surgical instructions to ensure a complete recovery.
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