What is ankle arthrodesis?

Ankle arthrodesis, or an ankle fusion, maybe the last resort to treating severe and debilitating pain caused by ankle arthritis. It may also be done for deformities such as cavus foot, club foot or severe ankle instability. This surgery involves the fusion of bones in the ankle so that the ankle may no longer be able to bend and is stiffen in position.

What does treatment involve?

When non-surgical methods fail to ease the pain, an ankle arthrodesis may be deemed the best solution to arthritis, deformity or ankle instability. Once you are under general anaesthesia, using arthroscopic surgery techniques, Dr Heymans will make small puncture-like incisions on both sides of the ankle. By inserting an arthroscope into the ankle, he will be given a video view of the inner workings of the ankle and can perform surgery this way. After removing the surface of the joint, the two bones which are now touching, are held together using screws. Secured in place, these bones can heal together and fuse to one another.

In some cases, a tight Achilles may also be lengthened during this surgery by making three incisions into the calf muscle and stretching the tendon. For those with a severe foot deformity, the deformity may also be corrected during this surgery. This may involve the fusing of other joints, breaking and realigning other bones in the foot. What may be done will be discussed with you prior to surgery.

What can I expect in terms of recovery?

Recovery will depend on what other surgery was done in combination with the ankle fusion and whether it was possible to perform these surgeries using minimally invasive techniques. If only the ankle fusion was done, you could expect some pain, swelling and inflammation around the ankle after surgery. Because the surgery was done using arthroscopic techniques, pain and recovery should be minimal. Recovery should take about 6 – 8 weeks. Because the bones are fused, the joint will no longer be able to bend, and thus lifestyle changes will need to be made. You will no longer have as much range of motion in the ankle which will mean that climbing or high-impact sports may no longer be possible.