Ankle pain can come in several stages. In the beginning, rest, ice, and pain relievers might be enough to get you back on your feet. Eventually, you might have to give up some of the recreational activities you enjoy because the pain is not worth it to you. However, when you reach a point where you can’t walk normally, function at your job, or even rest without pain, it’s time to consider more drastic measures. For some people with untreatable ankle pain, a total joint replacement might be the right choice.
What Causes Severe Ankle Pain?
Severe, chronic ankle pain could be caused by an injury, but it is more commonly caused by osteoarthritis. This degenerative joint disease develops over time due to aging and general wear and tear on the joint. People who have led active lifestyles—particularly runners—are at a higher risk for this debilitating condition.
Once the cartilage that cushions the joint becomes totally worn down, there is bone-on-bone contact, and very little can be done to relieve the pain. People with advanced osteoarthritis of the ankle can consider a total ankle joint replacement to get back pain-free mobility.
How Does the Surgeon Replace an Arthritic Ankle?
While not as common as knee replacements and hip replacements, ankle replacements involve a similar kind of procedure. The surgeon will make an incision on the top of the foot, remove any remaining cartilage between the ankle bones, prepare the joint surface for the prosthetic pieces, and implant the artificial ankle joint. It is usually an in-patient procedure, but most patients only spend one night in the hospital. Patients with health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes might not be good candidates for this surgery, and patients who are overweight might be advised to lose weight before having the procedure done.
Recovery and Long-Term Prognosis After an Ankle Replacement
While an ankle replacement will help you regain some of the strength, mobility, and stability you lost in your ankle, it will take time to fully recover and feel the benefits. The new ankle will allow you to walk normally and return to a more active lifestyle, but it will take a commitment to physical therapy and strengthening exercises to get there.
Recovery time varies from patient to patient, but it can take as long as a year to complete rehabilitation and feel 100 percent recovered. You should experience the majority of improvement within the first six months. You will have follow-up appointments with your surgeon to monitor healing, and your surgeon will recommend a recovery plan, which will include rehab and physical therapy involving the following:
- Help with standing and walking
- Management of inflammation
- Exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the ankle joint
- Stretches to increase range of motion and flexibility
- Gradually increasing level of weight-bearing activities
As with any surgery, there are risks associated with an ankle replacement. You could develop an infection or blood clot or experience nerve damage in the area surrounding the ankle. In the years following the surgery, the artificial joint components could loosen up or wear out, requiring a replacement. Regular visits to your orthopedic surgeon can catch these complications early.
Discuss Ankle Replacement Surgery With Our Team
If you are suffering with chronic ankle pain caused by osteoarthritis, the skilled orthopedic surgeons at Northwest Extremity Specialists will develop a personalized treatment plan that may include total joint replacement surgery. At our full-service orthopedic clinic, you can get conservative treatment for ankle pain for as long as it is effective, surgical prep and surgery by a skilled orthopedic surgeon, and follow-up rehab and physical therapy—all in one place.
If you are suffering from ankle pain that is limiting your ability to function in a normal capacity, schedule an appointment in one of our offices. We will evaluate your condition and your overall health to ensure that we are providing the best possible treatment options. Call us today at 503-245-2420 to make an appointment in the Portland-area office closest to you.