Ankle Fusion (Ankle Arthrodesis)

Ankle fusion involves surgically combining ankle bones. The procedure can help people suffering from chronic arthritis and neuromuscular impairments, by relieving inflammation, pain, and swelling near the ankle.

What You Need To Know About Ankle Fusion

      1. What is an Ankle Fusion?

      2. Why is an Ankle Fusion Performed?

      3. How to Prepare for an Ankle Fusion

      4. What Happens During an Ankle Fusion Procedure?

      5. Are There Risks Associated with Ankle Fusion Surgery?

      6. Post Ankle Fusion and Recovery

What is an Ankle Fusion?

Ankle fusion - or ankle arthrodesis - is a surgical procedure typically done to treat arthritis in the ankle. Physicians fuse the bones of your ankle into one piece. This surgery is generally recommended only for people who need to retain the full usability of their foot and ankle.

Ankle fusion is the recommended operating procedure for patients suffering from prolonged ankle pain from arthritis, infection, and other neuromuscular conditions. It is a simple and effective solution to address symptoms with a practical, functional outcome.

Surgeons can either make an incision in your ankle to compress the bones together using plates, nails, and screws or conduct a less invasive surgery requiring a smaller incision and a tiny camera to complete the operation. Talk with your physician to learn about the best treatment option for your specific condition.

Why is an Ankle Fusion Performed?

An ankle fusion is traditionally performed to alleviate pain caused by posttraumatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, infection, neuromuscular conditions, and in some cases to save a failed ankle arthroplasty.

Arthritis slowly deteriorates protective cartilage between the ankle bone (talus) and the heel bone (calcaneus), resulting in pain and inflammation.

As arthritis progresses over time, cartilage degradation will leave no protective barrier between ankle bones leading to debilitating symptoms, including pain, inflammation, and stiffness. Several conditions cause trauma in the ankle, including rheumatoid arthritis, septic arthritis, hemarthrosis, and congenital deformity.

The loss of cartilage can be due to arthritic symptoms caused by a sports injury, inflation from rheumatoid arthritis, or regular wear and tear from osteoarthritis. An ankle fusion helps stop swelling and discomfort because it helps absorb the weight of the affected area.

Regardless of the source of your ankle pain, consult a physician to conduct a thorough inspection to provide an appropriate treatment plan to address your symptoms. Severe cases will most likely require a surgical procedure to alleviate chronic pain. Your doctor will not recommend surgery unless other options have been ineffective.

How to Prepare for an Ankle Fusion Procedure

The best way to prepare for an ankle fusion surgery is to consult with your physician. Disclose any medicines that you take, including aspirin, blood thinners, or any other prescribed medication. Patients who smoke must also stop preceding surgery since it may interfere with healing.

To prepare for your procedure, schedule an appointment with your doctor for required diagnostic imaging testing. These tests are necessary to create your customized treatment. No two people or injuries are the same, and your physician will need to understand the full extent of your damage. Depending on your specific condition, tests may include a CT scan, ultrasound, X-rays, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Do not eat or drink after midnight the night preceding your surgery. Make sure you arrange someone to drive you home after the procedure is complete. You will not be able to walk on your foot generally during the recovery, so purchase a cane or walker to help you get around your home.

A Resurgens physician will be able to provide you with more information. Schedule an appointment now.

What Happens During an Ankle Fusion Surgery

Your surgeon typically starts the procedure by making an incision on the outside or the front of the ankle. The surgeon removes damaged bone and cartilage and fuses the joint to stabilize the ankle and relieve pain. Screws, plates, and other hardware will bind the ankle bones in a correct position.

Some patients may require a subtalar joint fusion during the surgery, using a nail or rod to position the joints. Other patients may be eligible for arthroscopic surgery, which is a less invasive procedure where doctors can complete the operation using an arthroscope, a small camera inserted into the joint through a small incision.

Each patient requires a different treatment procedure. So your doctor may choose a different method for performing this surgery. They will make a medical choice based on your x-rays and a consultation with you about your symptoms.

After the surgery is complete, patients will need splints or a plastic boot to protect the ankle fusion and help with recovery.

Are There Risks Associated with Ankle Fusion Surgery?

Ankle fusion surgery has a high success rate, and 90% of operations correctly fuse the ankle bones. However, even in ideal circumstances, there is always a potential for risk.

For example, sometimes the bones do not fuse. In this event, you may require an additional procedure to properly place the bone graft to the ankle or adjust existing hardware. Your doctor will be able to give you a more comprehensive evaluation of risk.

Even after successful surgery, other joints bearing new stress proceeding the ankle arthrodesis may deteriorate at a faster rate. This side effect is common during an ankle fusion due to movement limitations on the operated joints. Additionally, every surgical procedure carries similar risks, including:

  • Infection

  • Damaged nerves or blood vessels

  • Blood clots

  • Accelerate arthritic symptoms on nearby joints

Some patients may be more susceptible to surgical complications due to age, lifestyle, and preceding conditions. For instance, low bone density from smoking or diabetes may increase the risk of surgical complications.

Consult with your Resurgens physician to learn more about specific liabilities that may be related to your particular medical history.

Post Ankle Fusion Surgery and Recovery

Following an ankle fusion surgery, patients must elevate their ankle above the heart by lying down in a reclined position to reduce swelling. Patients are monitored overnight in the hospital, and doctors will prescribe pain medication to keep them comfortable.

The affected ankle will be placed in a cast to allow the new bone to heal with the fused joint. Once the bone is sufficiently fused, patients can put minimal weight on their foot. The complete recovery cycle takes between four and six months, but patients should stay off their operated ankle for eight to twelve weeks following surgery.

Your physician may provide patients with pain medication during recovery. Keep your foot elevated, rest, and avoid putting weight or walking on the operated ankle.

After your surgery, you will need to do physical therapy post-surgery to help regain strength in your ankle and restore mobility. If the patient follows proper post-operation procedures and therapy, they can usually return to their regular daily activities between three and four months. A cane or braces will help recovering patients avoid any potential post-surgery complications.

Learn more about our treatment options by visiting the Foot and Ankle Center at Resurgens Orthopaedics.

Virtual After-Hours Access

Resurgens Orthopaedics has partnered with the HURT! app to offer FREE virtual after-hours access to orthopedic specialists right when you need it.

Receive immediate guidance on your injury!