Total Ankle Arthroplasty

Total ankle arthroplasty (total ankle replacement) is a surgical procedure used to relieve pain and restore movement to damaged ankle joints. During a total ankle replacement, the damaged ankle joint is surgically removed and replaced with an artificial replacement joint, which helps restore function and support to the joint. Damage to the ankle joint is commonly caused by injury or age-related degenerative conditions such as arthritis. These injuries tend to get worse over time and can cause severe pain, stiffness, limited range of motion and an eventual loss of function of the ankle. Ankle replacement surgery is one of the most effective treatment options available for severely damaged ankle joints. While it is difficult to restore full function to the ankle, many patients are able to experience a drastic improvement in ankle function after this procedure.

Candidates for Total Ankle Arthroplasty

Total ankle replacement is usually considered if the ankle joint is severely damaged. It may be an option after other methods of treatment have not been successful and the individual continues to experience pain and loss of movement. Candidates for total ankle replacement may include individuals who have ankle damage as a result of:

  • Bone fracture
  • Arthritis
  • Infection
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

In some cases, past ankle surgeries may cause arthritis in the ankle that can seriously damage the joint.

The Total Ankle Arthroplasty

The total ankle replacement procedure is performed while the patient is under general anesthesia to help minimize pain and discomfort. The surgeon makes an incision in the ankle and removes the damaged bone and cartilage. The artificial replacement joint is then inserted and attached to the bones of the leg and foot. The incision is then closed and the ankle is usually put in a splint or cast to keep it stable. This procedure usually requires a short hospital stay, and a tube may be inserted to help drain blood from the ankle joint. Medication is administered to control pain. Compression stockings may also be used to help prevent swelling and bruising of the ankle.

Risks of Total Ankle Arthroplasty

Although total ankle replacement is considered a safe procedure, there are certain risks involved with any type of surgery. These risks may include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Broken bones
  • Dislocation of the artificial joint
  • Nerve damage
  • Artery damage
  • Reaction to anesthesia

Ankle weakness or stiffness may also occur after total ankle replacement and over time the artificial joint may become loose.

Results of Total Ankle Arthroplasty

After a total ankle replacement procedure, most patients experience significant relief from pain, and movement of the ankle is restored. Physical therapy is an important party of the recovery process after a total ankle replacement. The goal of physical therapy is to restore full movement and mobility to the ankle and help the patient return to all usual activities. After the initial healing phase when patients can bear weight on the joint, a physical therapy regimen is implemented to strengthen muscles and increase mobility. Although it depends on the over all health of the patient, a total ankle replacement may last for 10 years or more.

Additional Resources