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What to Expect with Ankle Fusion Surgery


If you have severe arthritis in your ankle, your doctor may recommend ankle fusion surgery. Deciding to have any kind of surgery is always a big decision, and you probably have plenty of questions.

Here are some of the questions we often hear from people considering ankle fusion, and the answers to those questions.

Who is a good candidate for ankle fusion?

Generally, ankle fusion is only recommended for patients with severe arthritis pain who are no longer able to get relief from less-invasive treatments, like medication, physical therapy, steroid injections, braces, and special shoes.

How does ankle fusion help stop arthritis pain?

Three bones—the tibia, the fibula, and the talus—come together to form the ankle joint. When you have arthritis in your ankle, the cartilage that covers the end of those bones is damaged. Cartilage acts as a kind of shock absorber, helping your bones move smoothly against each other. Without the cartilage performing its cushioning function, the action of bone rubbing against bone can be extremely painful. Fusing two or more of the bones together prevents them from moving and, thus, eliminates the source of pain.

What happens during ankle fusion surgery?

Your surgeon will make one or more incisions in your ankle and scrape away the remaining damaged cartilage so that the bones in your ankle joint make contact. The surgeon will compress the bones together and insert screws, plates, or other hardware to hold them in place. Over a period of months, the bones will naturally grow together permanently. In some cases, the surgeon will also use a bone graft to help jump-start the fusion.

How long will recovery take?

You will need to be off your feet for at least six to eight weeks while the bones are growing together, and in some cases you may need to wait even longer. X-rays will let your doctor see whether the bones have fused enough for you to walk on them. You will need to work with a physical therapist to strengthen your ankle and leg. It may be several months before your recovery is complete.

What risks should I be aware of? 

Every surgery comes with some risks, including infection, bleeding, and blood clots. In addition to the normal risks of surgery, people who have had ankle surgery are more likely to develop arthritis in other joints in the foot because the way the foot moves has changed; other joints are now bearing more stress. There is also a possibility that the bones won’t fuse successfully, although that risk is relatively low.

Will I walk with a limp after ankle fusion?

Your walk will be a little different after ankle fusion, but with physical therapy and shoe inserts, most people are able to walk without a limp.

What kind of activities will I be able to do after I recover?

You won’t be able to run after ankle fusion surgery, but if you’re otherwise healthy, you should be able to walk, hike, ride a bike, and do similar activities once you’re completely healed.

For more information about ankle fusion surgery, please call Specialty Surgical Center. We would be happy to schedule a consultation with one of our doctors.

Specialty Surgical Center is located in Sparta, New Jersey, and our staff consists of board certified surgeons and anesthesiologists performing procedures in orthopedics, sports medicine, spinal care, podiatry, urology, pain management, ENT, hand surgery, lithotripsy, brachytherapy, GYN, and laser surgery.

For more information about Specialty Surgical Center, call 973-940-3166 or visit our Contact Page.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.