What is ankle replacement surgery?
Ankle replacement surgery involves replacing bones in the ankle with artificial ones. It is designed to relieve pain and difficulty moving the ankle, often caused by suffering from arthritis.
Arthritis is a group of conditions that causes damage to one or more joints. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis where the joints suffer gradual wear and tear. With rheumatoid arthritis, the cartilage is eventually worn away, causing the bone underneath to become damaged.
If you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in the ankle, moving and putting weight on your ankle may have become extremely painful and challenging. To reduce these symptoms, you may be recommended ankle replacement surgery.
Benefits to ankle replacement surgery
If your ankle replacement surgery is successful you should have less pain and find it easier to walk.
Alternatives to surgery
Non-surgical alternatives to ankle replacement surgery include:
- Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen (brufen) to control the pain of arthritis
- Supplements such as cod liver oil or glucosamine. Always check with your doctor before taking these
- Wearing an elasticated support on your ankle
- Regular exercise, which can help reduce stiffness in your ankle
- Physiotherapy to help weak muscles
- Keyhole surgery, which cleans or makes small repairs to the ankle joint, and may give temporary relief
What will happen during my ankle replacement consultation?
When you meet with your consultant surgeon they'll ensure that you have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about your ankle replacement, they'll discuss with you what'll happen before, during and after the procedure and any pain you might have. Take this time with your consultant surgeon to ensure your mind is put at rest. We know that having an operation of any type can be stressful so we've created two short downloadable guides that you might find useful to print off and use to write down any questions you may have. Do take this with you to your consultation.
What happens during the surgery?
Your surgeon will recommend a suitable ankle replacement. During the ankle replacement surgery the surgeon will make a cut on the front of your ankle, remove the damaged surfaces, and replace these with an artificial ankle joint made of metal, plastic, ceramic, or a combination of these. The ankle replacement is then fixed to the bone with a special coating and your surgeon will close the skin with stitches or clips.
For more information, and if you have any queries about the procedure, speak to your consultant.
Continue your normal medication unless you are told otherwise.
Preparing for your operation
These lifestyle changes can help make the operation a success:
- Giving up smoking
- Eating healthily (if overweight, you have a greater chance of developing complications)
- Exercising regularly
Potential complications of this operation include*:
- Bleeding after surgery
- Some pain is common with most operations
- Infection of the surgical wound this usually settles with antibiotics, but further surgery may be required
- Loosening of the ankle
- Further surgery may be necessary
- Infection in the ankle
- Unsightly scarring of the skin, although ankle-replacement wounds usually heal to a neat scar
*This is not a definitive list and symptoms will vary with each patient. Please ask your consultant for more information.
How long will I take to recover?
You should be able to go home five to seven days after the ankle replacement surgery; however your surgeon may recommend you stay at hospital longer. You will be given exercises to do at home, which should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Remember, you will not be able to drive home after an ankle replacement.
Most people make a good recovery following ankle replacement surgery, however, an artificial ankle never feels quite the same as a normal ankle and the replacement can wear out with time. You will usually have an x-ray of your ankle at least every five years to check the position of your ankle replacement.