Wheelchairs: Mobility Options for You

Preparing For Your Total Ankle Joint Replacement

Your foot and ankle doctor has recommended an artificial joint replacement to resolve your ankle instability. This is a common procedure, but it is major surgery. It's worth your time to understand what will be done and what you can expect after the surgery.

Replacing Bone with Plastic and Metal

Your ankle is made up of the lower leg bone, called the tibia, fitting into a convex space in your first ankle bone, called the talus. Ligaments hold the bones together and allow them to move back and forth and rotate slightly. Tendons attach muscles to the bones to control the movement of your ankle.

The surgeon will remove a portion of the tibia and shape the talus to receive the artificial parts. Two artificial joint components will be attached to the tibia and talus with a special bone glue. They will fit together like the natural joint. The ligaments and tendons will be repositioned on the bones to make your new ankle stable and flexible.

Recovery from Ankle Replacement

The first priority of recovery is the proper healing of the tissues affected by the surgery. Infection is always a risk with a major surgery. Your doctor will tell you how to monitor the surgical site for any signs on infection. You'll also take antibiotics during the first few days after surgery.

After a few days of healing, the real recovery begins, and success is up to you. The muscles in your ankle need to be stretched and strengthened. The ability of your new ankle to support you as you walk or run depends on this phase of recovery.

Retraining Your Ankle

You will be off of your ankle for several days as the soft tissues and incision heal. Your doctor will then allow you to place some weight on your ankle as you walk with crutches. This increases the circulation in the ankle and begins to stretch the muscles that have been inactive for several days.

You'll also begin physical therapy on the ankle which includes:

  • walking on a treadmill while bending your ankle slightly
  • range of motion exercises to retrain the muscles to move smoothly in all directions
  • ankle extension exercises to prevent muscles from contracting

The key to your success is talking with your physical therapist so you understand your limitations, and sticking to them. Progress is made incrementally. There will be days when you feel like you can do much more than your ankle is capable of. If you push yourself beyond the limits, you can damage the tissues in your new ankle. If that happens, you'll have to stay off of it for a few days while it heals, and start your therapy all over again.

Set a pace with your physical therapist that is comfortable to maintain and lets you make progress. Stick to this pace, don't get impatient, and your new ankle will serve you well for many years. Contact a foot and ankle doctor for more information.