Joints allow your feet to move. Pointing, flexing, and wiggling your toes are all possible because you have joints between specific bones that permit some movement. Where there are joints, however, there can be arthritis. This condition can degenerate your bones and make motion painful. Fusions are surgical options to eliminate this damage and discomfort.
When Surgery Is Needed
Joint fusions, also called arthrodesis, are surgeries that fuse damaged bones together to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. Since this eliminates the joint’s ability to move, this is usually a last-resort procedure. Arthritis involves the slow breakdown of the bones and supporting tissues in a joint. Given enough time, the damage can make it very painful or nearly impossible to use the affected joint. There are conservative methods to treat this condition, but if they do not help with the discomfort, you may need more invasive options to deal with the problem.
An ankle fusion is usually considered a treatment option when all other conservative methods have been tried but have failed to adequately alleviate the pain or prevent the problem from worsening. It is not the only type of arthritis surgery, either. Ankle replacements are options for older adults, particularly if they don’t participate in hard-impact activities. If you have advanced arthritis and aren’t a candidate for a replacement, though, a fusion procedure may be your best option for eliminating the discomfort.
What to Expect from the Procedure
An ankle fusion can be done multiple ways. You can fuse the top part of the ankle, which allows point-and-flex movement, or the subtalar joint, which permits side-to-side motions, to eliminate arthritis issues. The procedure removes the cartilage and other protective tissues to expose the hard bone surfaces. Any deformities that developed as a result of the joint damage are typically corrected at this time. The bones are then fused together and held in place by pins, screws, and plates.
As the bones recover, they grow together, eliminating the moveable joint between them. Since there is no longer a moving area between the bones, motion can’t contribute to the arthritis, eradicating the painful problem. After the procedure, your foot will need to be immobilized in a cast or a splint so the bone tissue can grow together and the incisions can heal. Over time, you’ll be able to slowly put weight on the limb again. Physical therapy will help you regain the strength you need to walk and participate in other activities.
Life after Ankle Surgery
Though fusions cause you to lose motion in specific joints, your foot will not become completely rigid. You will still have some movement, though it may take time to adjust to how it feels. Once the bones have completely healed, the ankle will be quite durable. You’ll be able to return to most of your activities, including hiking, walking long distances, biking, and even spending periods of time standing at work. You still may need to make shoe or orthotic adjustments to accommodate your lower limbs, however.
If you’re struggling with ankle arthritis that isn’t responding to conservative treatment, you don’t have to live with the pain. You can take steps to eliminate it. Let the experts at Martin Foot and Ankle help you decide if an ankle fusion is right for you. You can contact our Lancaster, York, and Hanover offices for an appointment by calling (717) 757-3537, or by using the online request form.
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