What you need to know before total ankle replacement surgery

You’ve tried therapies, surgeries and “taking it easy.” You’ve suffered through ankle strain, stiffness and mobility issues. Your doctor says that your arthritis is only getting worse and other options, like an ankle fusion, won’t cut it this time. So, it sounds like you are ready for a total ankle replacement (sometimes called a total ankle arthroplasty).

Admittedly, this procedure can be a bit intimidating. After all, your doctor will be surgically removing your natural ankle joint before replacing it with an artificial one. Even though it’s a routine procedure for a surgeon, it’s a big deal for a patient and one that requires weeks of recovery. Still, the physical benefits largely outweigh any negatives, so the best thing to do to prepare is to get informed. If the idea of a total ankle replacement has you feeling anxious, read on to learn a little more about the process and feel better about the prospect of going under the knife.

Technology has greatly changed the way ankle replacements are done — and only for the better. The use of robotics in surgeries doesn’t replace the use of human care during procedures, but it certainly enhances surgical techniques. In fact, through computer-assisted imaging and surgical movements, attention to detail is now better than ever, and customized operative plans can be developed based on CT scan findings and individual anatomy. The materials used to replace joints have also advanced. Today, The Wright Infinity and Inbone Total Ankle Systems are popular choices and both take advantage of the latest research and innovations.

The procedure itself takes place in an in-patient setting and, depending on damage, it will take about two hours. During the procedure, you will be under general anesthesia as your surgeon makes an incision along the front of the ankle, removes damaged bone and cartilage, and replaces it with the artificial joint. After surgery, you’ll wake up with a splint or cast around your leg for stability, and you will likely need to stay in the hospital for a short time while blood is drained from the joint and medicine is administered as needed to keep pain under wraps.

If the idea of a full replacement is still concerning, consider the results that come post procedure. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll quickly notice significant relief from pain, which can be debilitating for those suffering with arthritis. Plus, most patients regain close to full movement and mobility in the ankle, meaning you will get back into activities that are simply not possible with arthritis or other chronic ankle issues. After your incisions have healed and you are able to place weight on your ankle, you will need to work with a physical therapist to help you get back on track — and it is essential that you stick to the regimen to see full results. With patience, the right follow-up and post-treatment care, and contingent on your comprehensive health, your new ankle should last at least 10 years.