Life After Ankle Fusion

When conservative treatment fails to reduce ankle pain caused by severe arthritis, your doctor may recommend ankle arthrodesis, commonly referred to as ankle fusion. The goal is to relieve pain and maintain or improve ankle function. Here’s what you can expect after the procedure.

Ankle Arthritis

If arthritis appears in the ankle joint, it causes a degeneration of the cartilage covering the ends of bones that form the joint, which are the tibia, fibula, and talus. An ankle arthrodesis procedure fuses the ankle bones into one bone to eliminate joint motion and reduce pain.

Here’s What to Expect

If you decide with your doctor that ankle fusion is the best option, keep in mind the steps involved after surgery for an optimal outcome.

Immediately following the procedure period, it will be essential to minimize swelling by elevating the fused ankle. This means lying down with your leg propped up or sitting in a reclined position. Pain medication is also provided for this short period.

It will take approximately six to eight weeks before the tibia and talus are fused sufficiently, and you are permitted to bear any weight on your leg. However, this healing period may take as long as 10 to 12 weeks. Going about your daily life without putting pressure on one leg is difficult. To help, patients typically use crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, or knee scooters to move.

About 10 to 14 days after surgery non-absorbable stitches or staples are typically removed. Also around this time, light physical therapy begins to keep the other joints in the foot flexible.

It will be beneficial to have someone help with basic tasks and activities at home, especially during the first two weeks. The following are good ideas to prepare your home while in recovery:

  • Install ramps to navigate stairs.
  • Place beds on a ground level.
  • Install shower chairs, commode handles and railings.

Walking Again

Ankle fusion decreases the majority of up-and-down motion the ankle joint handles. However, all is not lost, as the other joints of the foot remain, allowing the heel to move from side to side and the middle of the foot to move up and down.

Patients will slowly bear weight on their ankle using a walking boot. Physical therapy aids in this transition and maintains your ankle and leg strength. Keep all follow-up appointments so your health care provider can track your progress and resolve complications.

It may be several months before you return to normal activities. The fused ankle will never function exactly like a normal ankle, and it does change how a person walks. However, with proper shoe wear most patients do not limp. Also, patients find even with a fused ankle; they can work physically demanding jobs, walk long distances, hike, cycle, and ski.

If you experience ankle arthritis, the team at Oasis Foot and Ankle Center,, is committed to helping you through every step of treatment to ensure the best outcome and improve your quality of life.