Your ankle is a complex joint, and it is put under strain every time you walk, run, or jump. As such, it is pretty common for arthritis to develop in the ankles as people age. When this occurs, your orthopedic doctor will often recommend a procedure called ankle fusion surgery, which permanently connects two of the bones in your ankle so they no longer move. If you've been advised to have this surgery, here's a brief look at what to expect.
The procedure might be done without general anesthesia.
For many patients, the biggest concern that comes with any surgery is the concern that they won't wake up from the anesthesia. Well, the good news is that ankle fusion surgery is not often done under general anesthesia anymore. Instead, you will probably be given a spinal anesthetic that numbs you from the waist down. This is similar to the epidurals that women are given during childbirth. You will be awake throughout the surgery, but your legs will be completely numb. There's no need to worry about not waking up.
Cartilage will be removed before the joint is fused.
Ankle fusion surgery is usually done in two stages. First, your surgeon will need to remove the articulating cartilage, which is the cartilage that lines both of the bones in the joint. This cartilage is usually quite damaged by the time your ankle arthritis is bad enough to require surgery, so simply getting rid of it is the easiest approach. Once the cartilage is removed, your surgeon will use hardware — usually a plate and some screws — to hold the two bones together. Finally, your muscles and skin will be stitched back up.
Recovery will be painful.
There's no reason to sugar-coat this: recovering from any orthopedic surgery can be painful. You can expect the pain to be at its worst for about three days after the procedure. Your doctor will likely send you home with an ice machine that will circulate cold water around your ankle, which should take the edge off the pain and swelling. Taking the prescribed pain relievers will also help. Make sure you have someone stay with you to help you get around and take care of yourself during this time when the pain is at its worst. After a week, you'll be feeling a lot better and can really start moving towards recovery with stretches and physical therapy.
Ankle fusion surgery can be a little scary, but once you're recovered and pain-free, you'll be so much more mobile than you were with arthritis.
For more information, contact an orthopedic surgery center in your area.