Ankle Fusion (Arthrodesis)
Ankle Fusion (Arthrodesis) is a type of surgery to fuse the bones of the ankle joint into one piece, eliminating the joint itself. While your fused joint loses flexibility, it can bear weight better, is more stable, and is no longer painful. The surgery is usually done to treat arthritis in the ankle.
Arthritis can affect any joint in the foot. Over time, the smooth cartilage on the surface of the bones wears away. This results in pain, inflammation, and swelling in your joint.
The 3 main types of ankle arthritis are:
- Osteoarthritis, caused by wear and tear over time
- Rheumatoid arthritis, caused by an autoimmune disease that affects the joints
- Arthritis due to the previous injury of your joint
If you have mild or moderate arthritis, your doctor will likely advise other treatments first. These may include pain medicines, corticosteroid injections or physical therapy. You may be given special shoes or shoe inserts. If you still have severe symptoms that interfere with your daily activities, your doctor may advise an ankle fusion surgery.
Your doctor will determine the best approach based on the evaluation.
Your doctor will perform your ankle fusion by a team of specialized healthcare professionals. The whole operation may take a few hours. In general, you can expect the following:
- You may receive spinal anesthesia. This is so you won’t feel anything from your waist down. Your doctor will also provide sedation to relax you. Or you may be given general anesthesia. This will prevent pain and make you sleep through the surgery.
- Your doctor will watch your vital signs, like your heart rate and blood pressure, during the surgery.
- Your doctor will make an incision through the skin and muscle of your ankle, and likely another one on your foot. In the case of minimally invasive surgery, your doctor will make a smaller incision. Your doctor will then use a tiny camera with a light to help do the surgery.
- Your doctor will remove any remaining cartilage from the affected joint. Your bones will be connected in the proper position using hardware as needed.
- Your doctor will make any other repairs that are needed.
- Your doctor will close the layers of skin and muscle around your ankle and foot with stitches or staples.
- When you wake up, your leg will likely be elevated and in a brace to keep it from moving. Your doctor may need to perform follow-up X-rays to see how your surgery went. You will likely need to stay a few days at the hospital.
- You may have a lot of pain right after your surgery. Pain medicines may help to relieve your pain. The pain should begin to go away in a few days.
- You will likely need to wear a splint for a couple of weeks. You might also need to use crutches for several weeks. Your doctor will give you instructions about how you can move your foot as you recover. You won’t be able to put your full weight on it for a few months.
- Make sure to keep up with all of your follow-up appointments. This is so your doctor can keep track of your progress. Physical therapy may be needed for a few months. This is recommended to help you keep your strength in your ankle and leg. It may be several months before you can participate in normal activities again.