What You Need to Know About Total Ankle Replacement

For as much work as our ankles put in every day, it’s easy to take them for granted. Every time we walk, run, and even just stand around, they are putting a great amount of effort to keep us moving and balanced.

When you get down to it, it’s actually nice when we don’t realize how much our ankles matter to us, because we don’t tend to notice such things until something starts going wrong. If you have an ankle that is causing you chronic pain or reduced mobility that interferes with your daily life, you are aware of this fact firsthand.

There are several options for patients experiencing ankle pain, stiffness, or instability. For some patients, however, the ankle has degraded or become debilitated to such a degree that total ankle replacement surgery has become a consideration.

Total ankle replacement is not for everyone, though. This blog will answer some of the main questions of total ankle replacement and other potential options for ankle treatment.

What is Total Ankle Replacement?

Total ankle replacement is a procedure intended to relieve chronic pain and either maintain or restore the motion of the ankle. As opposed to the names of some other medical procedures, this one is quite straightforward in terms of what it does.

Bone and surrounding cartilage that has been damaged in the ankle joint is replaced with artificial prosthetics made of very strong metal and plastics. This commonly takes the form of replacing the end of the tibia and talus with metal parts and inserting a plastic piece between them.

You might also hear this procedure referred to as “total ankle arthroplasty” in some medical circles.

Which Patients are Most Eligible for Total Ankle Replacement?

Our most frequent candidates for total ankle replacement have end stage arthritis that causes chronic pain and/or limited mobility that significantly impacts daily life. Arthritis may be the result of family history, past ankle injuries that have made arthritis more likely, rheumatoid arthritis, and other causes.

Additional factors that are considered for candidacy include:

  • Having chronic ankle instability.
  • Having suffered multiple ankle fractures in the past.
  • Weighing less than 250 pounds.
  • Being more than 50 years old.
  • Having no deformity of the hind foot.
  • Not possessing additional medical problems that might cause complications during surgery, such as diabetes or poor circulation.

A full evaluation and medical history must be reviewed before making any proper decisions regarding total ankle replacement or any other surgical procedure. While every surgery comes with at least minor risk, we must ensure that the odds of complications during surgery are as low as possible, and that the end results have a high likelihood of success and not likely wear out too quickly.

If, during our evaluation, it’s determined that other methods of treatment may be preferable, we will fully discuss all options with you. More on some of these other potential options later.

What Would Happen Before and After Surgery?

First, a review of the surgical procedure would be conducted between you, our office, and your primary care physician. This includes a review of overall goals and evaluations of any unique risks that may be of special concern.

The surgery itself may differ depending on each situation, but can generally involve approaching the ankle from the front or side, cutting and removing bone, and then reforming the ankle joint using the plastic and metal components.

After surgery, the leg and ankle are immobilized and elevated. We will determine when you should ideally begin to start moving again and begin physical therapy to recover strength in the ankle and foot.

Although time can vary, it usually takes about 6 weeks for the area to heal enough to place weight upon it. Crutches or a walker might be usable before this time. Overall full recovery may take anywhere from 6-12 months.

What Other Treatment Options May There Be?

Replacement is not always the only option for treatment of ankle pain or instability. Other forms of treatment that may be suitable include:

  • Custom orthotics to provide additional support and alignment to the ankle.
  • Physical therapy to add strength and stability to the ankle joint and surrounding soft tissues.
  • Bracing to add external physical stability.
  • Modifications of footwear or activity levels/types.
  • MLS laser therapy to provide pain relief and accelerated recovery of soft tissue injuries within the ankle (such as sprains).

As with total ankle replacement itself, which types of treatments would be best recommended to each patient will largely depend on their condition, its severity, medical history, and individual lifestyle and needs. That is why we take the time to listen to your questions and concerns, and ask plenty of questions ourselves.

What Experience Does Foot & Ankle Clinics of Arizona Have with Total Ankle Replacement?

Dr. Spencer Niemann is our resident expert in total ankle replacement procedures, and is one of few podiatrists in Arizona fully trained to perform them. His training is specific to four brands of medical implants: STARS-SBI, Zimmer, Salto-Talaris-Tornier, and IN-BONE-Wright Medical.

Find Help for Your Ankle Problems

If you are currently suffering from consistent ankle pain or instability and are not receiving treatment for it, you should not expect things to get better on their own. In fact, you may run a higher risk of further injury and increased problems over time.

Foot & Ankle Clinics of Arizona can get to the source of your ankle woes and offer courses of treatment that can provide relief and help restore balance and mobility.

We have six locations throughout the greater Phoenix area that are ready to help. Call us at (480) 917-2300 to schedule an appointment at the most convenient office for you. If you prefer to reach us electronically, just fill out our online form and a member of our staff will reach out to you.

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