Are You a Candidate for Ankle Replacement?

As you get older, your joints start to deteriorate from wear-and-tear. This leads to pain, along with stiffness in your joints. Arthritis is the main culprit for this degeneration, and mobility becomes a problem due to the damage.

Many treatments help to slow the process down, but there’s only one definitive treatment that completely gets rid of your problematic joint. This procedure is called a total ankle replacement.

The team at Phoenix Foot and Ankle Institute specializes in all types of foot and ankle problems, including arthritis. Our skilled physician, Dr. Jefferey McAlister, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in total ankle replacements. If he determines this is the treatment for you, he gets the ball rolling for you to get back on your feet for good.

Arthritis and your ankle joint

Arthritis comes from the Greek words for “joint inflammation.” There are hundreds of different types of arthritis, but the three most common are:

1. Trauma-induced arthritis

Your ankle joint may become inflamed and painful as the result of a prior surgery or after an injury. Initial treatment involves anti-inflammatories, steroid injections, and physical therapy. Dr. McAlister may also put you in an ankle brace to support your joint.

2. Rheumatoid arthritis

This is an autoimmune disorder, the result of your immune system mistakenly attacking tissues in your body, that specifically affects your joints. It causes widespread inflammation, affects the joint lining, and leads to swelling that’s very painful. Medication is usually the first course of treatment.

3. Osteoarthritis

This type of arthritis occurs as you age, and is the most common form. When you’re young, your joints are covered in cartilage that protects your bones from grinding against each other. As you age, wear-and-tear leads to osteoarthritis, which causes that protective cartilage to erode away, leaving behind pain and inflammation. Pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and low-impact exercise are usually good treatments to start.

When the damage to your joint from any type of arthritis becomes so severe that it affects your mobility, Dr. McAlister first tries conservative therapies, such as medications or physical therapy. He recommends total ankle replacement surgery only when your symptoms can’t be resolved by these methods and continue to get worse.

Is surgery a good fit for you?

If first-line treatments are not successful, Dr. McAlister has to decide if surgery, a more aggressive approach, is right for you. Generally speaking, ankle replacement surgery is most successful if you’re over the age of 55, since older people don’t generally stress the ankle as much as younger people do. Other things that make you a great candidate for this surgery include:

An ankle replacement can last for up to ten years, depending on how you take care of the joint after surgery. There are other factors that Dr. McAlister considers before moving forward with this type of surgery, such as:

There are instances where Dr. McAlister steers you away from ankle replacement surgery. This could be due to poor quality of the bone in your ankle, or weakened and unstable ligaments surrounding the ankle. These conditions could make the surgery very risky, and decrease the likelihood of a good outcome.

What does an ankle replacement involve?

Once Dr. McAlister agrees that ankle replacement surgery is necessary, we’ll schedule a time for you. You’ll be under anesthesia for the duration of the procedure. 

During the surgery, he makes an incision in your ankle, and removes the part of your joint that’s damaged. He then replaces the damage with a prosthetic that's designed to give you the same movement that your natural joint did.

After surgery, you’ll be in a cast or splint for several weeks, while your ankle begins to heal. You won’t be able to put weight on your new joint for some time, so crutches are usually prescribed to help you get around.

Dr. McAlister also wants you to start physical therapy within a few weeks after surgery. The physical therapist helps you to regain mobility in your new joint. They also give you exercises to do at home to strengthen your ankle, and regain your normal activities.

When following Dr. McAlister’s postoperative orders and keeping up with your therapy exercises, you should be able to return to your normal activities within a year.

When you’re tired of dealing with the debilitating pain in your ankle from arthritis, call either of our convenient locations in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona at 602-761-7819, or book an appointment with us online today.

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