What is an ankle replacement?

Arthroplasty — or ankle joint replacement surgery — is a procedure doctors offer to patients who suffer from arthritis in the ankle. The surgery replaces the ankle joint with an artificial one. This preserves range of motion while reducing pain.

Your doctor may recommend an ankle replacement if other conservative treatments aren't working. Surgery is usually the last option because it has risks and requires a long recovery. Before opting for surgery, your doctor may try bracing, physical therapy, steroid injections or anti-inflammatory medications.

What to expect from ankle replacement surgery

Ankle joint replacement surgery is a major surgery that requires a hospital stay of two to three days or more. It may take longer for you to be able to walk on crutches or with a walker.

You're either completely asleep under general anesthesia or numb from an injection during the surgery. Your doctor makes an incision in your skin above the ankle and moves soft tissues out of the way to get to the bone.

The surgeon cuts and removes the bottom of the tibia and the top of the talus. Screws attach the artificial joint in place. Your doctor will realign bones or correct deformities while working on your ankle if necessary.

After surgery, your doctor closes the incision with stitches or staples. Then he puts your ankle in a cast.

Recovery takes several weeks. Avoid putting weight on your ankle until your doctor confirms with x-rays that you've healed enough. You can work with a physical therapist to strengthen your muscles and improve range of motion.

Common conditions ankle replacement surgery

Doctors use ankle joint replacement surgery to treat arthritis in the ankles. Your ankle joints have cartilage between the bones that act as a cushion. Arthritis causes the cartilage to wear down. This causes the bones to rub against each other. Other reasons cartilage might wear out and cause your joints to fail are:

  • Infection
  • Wear and tear
  • Ankle fractures
  • Trauma to the ankle

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