Ankle arthritis is a common problem for many people as they age, although occasionally it can also occur in younger people who have sustained an injury to their ankle. If you have osteoarthritis that is affecting your ankle and other treatments have been unsuccessful, ankle replacement surgery may be the solution.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK and causes the cartilage at the ends of your bones to break down. This causes pain, swelling and restricts the movement of the joint.
If other treatments for your ankle arthritis have been unsuccessful, it might be time to consider ankle replacement surgery. If your GP thinks surgery is your best option, they will refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon (a surgeon specialising in treating bone and muscle problems).
Surgery can greatly improve your symptoms and therefore increase your mobility and quality of life. However, surgery does not guarantee complete relief from your symptoms; you may find you still experience stiffness and pain in your ankle.
Before surgery, talk to your surgeon about the range of movement you’re likely to gain. This will help you decide whether to proceed and will also help set expectations for your recovery.
The best way to prepare for any surgery is to take good care of yourself so you’re as fit and healthy as possible beforehand. Nutrition plays a key role in your joint health. A healthy diet is therefore important, as well as regular light exercise and quitting smoking. This will all prepare your body for both surgery and recovery.
As with all surgeries, ankle replacement surgery carries its own risks, such as blood clots, swelling, nerve injury and infection. Quitting smoking before surgery can help reduce your risk of infection.
The surgery is usually performed under either a general anaesthetic or a spinal epidural and typically lasts around two to three hours.
A cut will be made into the front and sides of the ankle so your surgeon can remove the damaged cartilage and bone. Your surgeon will then smooth down the surfaces of the damaged bones and replace your joint with plastic and metal parts. The parts that are used to make your new joint are covered in a bioactive coating, which supports and promotes bone growth. This encourages the bone and replacement part to form a natural bond.
When you wake from your ankle replacement surgery, you will be in a recovery room and you’ll remain here while you recover from your anaesthetic. Your wound and vital signs, such as blood pressure and pulse, will be checked.
Your leg will be in a cast and you may experience numbness for about 24 hours after surgery. You may experience pain for a few days; however, you will be given pain relief in hospital and prescribed pain medication to take home if needed. You will be in hospital for two or three days after your surgery and during this time your leg will be elevated.
You can’t drive after surgery, so you need to arrange for someone to collect you from hospital.
For the first six weeks after surgery, you will be using crutches and will not be allowed to bear any weight on your foot. When you’re lying or sitting down, you will need to keep your leg elevated to help reduce swelling.
After six weeks, your physiotherapist may encourage you to slowly bear some weight on your foot. However, you won’t be able to bear your full weight on your foot for 12 weeks. Post-surgery recovery can take up to six months for some patients and it can be up to a year before you are completely recovered.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s recovery time is different. Take each day as it comes, allow your body time to heal and don’t push yourself too hard — listen to your body.
Although the recovery journey after surgery is a slow and steady 12 months or so, most people find it easier to be active once they’re fully recovered from ankle replacement surgery. If you were previously taking part in sports such as cycling, golf or swimming, you should be able to return to these once fully recovered.
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