For years ankle fusion has been the only treatment option available for people suffering from severe ankle arthritis. Fusion has always been an effective treatment technique, but it’s an option that completely alters the patient’s gait, changing the way they walk for the rest of their lives. It totally eliminates ankle motion and causes severe arthritis in the rest of the foot too.
New advancements in medical technology have offered a solution, that can produce long-term mobility, flexibility, and stability. Total Ankle Replacement surgery allows the patient to retain motion in the ankle joint, creating a new joint that functions like the old one, but without pain. Below we’ll explain why Dr. Meredith Warner prefers Total Ankle Replacement surgery for her patients, and detail each step of the procedure.
Ankle arthritis is a condition caused by damage to the joint that connects the foot to the leg, also known as the tibiotalar or ankle joint. There are three bones connected in this joint: the tibia, the fibula, and the talus. Ankle arthritis can involve any or all of these bones. Symptoms vary but most commonly include pain during movement, swelling, tenderness, and difficulty walking.
About 50 percent of people over the age of 60 are affected by ankle arthritis every year and seek out a treatment that may help relieve pain. Most ankle arthritis is post-traumatic and can usually be traced to an injury.
Ankle fusion is one of the most common ankle arthritis solutions offered by medical professionals in the United States, yet often comes with a variety of complications. During the procedure, the doctor will extract damaged cartilage and use pins, plates, and screws to set the joint in a stable position. The joint is removed, allowing the bones to fuse and grow together over time.
The procedure is often successful and reduces pain, however adjacent joint disease may develop in the months and years following surgery. Also, by removing the joint, range of motion is reduced in the ankle, ultimately affecting gait. The change can negatively impact the knee and hip, causing injury or damage.
An Innovative Alternative: Ankle Replacement
Total Ankle Replacement surgery may not be as conventional as total hip or knee replacements at this time, but is a solution that can be as viable and successful for individuals living with arthritis. Dr. Meredith Warner prefers this treatment method over fusion because it allows patients to maintain a more normal gait post-surgery.
During the procedure, damaged cartilage is removed, and a new metal and plastic joint is implanted in order to restore function. The method relieves ankle arthritis pain and offers patients more mobility and flexibility than fusion. Following surgery, the patient can safely move the ankle joint, meaning less stress is transferred to adjacent joints.
Most patients can begin weight bearing on their ankle within one month and begin physical therapy just a week following surgery. Studies have shown that ankle replacement leads to more normal gait than a fusion. On average, replacement joints start to wear out after about ten to 15 years. Once the total joint is worn down a doctor may recommend a second ankle replacement or at that time a fusion may be appropriate.
For many patients with ankle arthritis, an ankle replacement may be the best treatment path to explore to ensure long-term success, comfort and to protect the rest of the foot and leg from arthritis problems also.