Each year, more than a million Americans visit the doctor for ankle pain from arthritis. Some of these patients now have another option for their aging joints — ankle replacement.
Ankle replacement allows patients to regain range of motion in the ankle, compared with the most common other surgical option, ankle fusion, says Jeffrey Johnson, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and foot and ankle specialist.
In ankle fusion, the worn-out part of the joint is removed, and the bones are locked together with screws and plates. The procedure relieves pain, but the patient loses mobility in the ankle. This may limit some activities and lead to additional stresses on the remaining joints of the foot.
With ankle replacement, arthritic ankles are replaced with artificial joints made of metal alloys and lightweight plastic. Many patients can walk normally within six months after surgery and eventually return to activities like golf or skiing.
“My colleagues and I agree that a patient who has no more pain because of a successful ankle fusion is happy,” Johnson says. “But a patient who is pain-free and regains or retains range of motion through ankle replacement is so much happier.”
The ideal patient for ankle replacement is 60 years or older, of normal weight and in good health. People with diabetes, ankle deformity or poor circulation may not be good candidates for this surgery.