Ankle pain often can be treated without surgery. However, when those treatments fail, surgery can help return the ankle to improved health and function.
Those were among the thoughts shared by Jason George DeVries, a foot-and-ankle surgeon with Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic in Manitowoc, during a recent Facebook LIVE Q&A discussion on total ankle replacement surgeries.
Total ankle replacement occurs when the surgeon removes damaged bone and cartilage from the ankle joint and inserts an artificial ankle joint that is guided by custom instrumentation. The new joint is made of metal components that replace damaged bone, cushioned by a high-grade plastic that simulates natural cartilage to provide stability. The ankle joint replacement may last for up to 15 years before showing signs of wear.
“A lot of times people will come in and say, ‘Hey, I just want my ankle replaced,’ and they’ll be 35 years old with an unstable ankle or they’ll have a little chip or a piece of cartilage that’s loose or a spur,” DeVries says. “Most often with ankle pain, we can do a whole lot better than ankle replacement.”
Non-surgical treatments such as the use of anti-inflammatories, use of a support brace, modifying physical activities and applying ice to the ankle can offer some relief from ankle pain, DeVries says. When these remedies no longer are effective, surgery may be the next, best option.
“That’s when we start transitioning the conversation from something that we can deal with conservatively into more of a surgical option,” DeVries says.
After successful total ankle replacement surgery, patients maintain the range of motion needed to turn, flex and walk up an incline. They can continue to enjoy many fitness activities, including hiking, biking and skiing. However, running and jumping is generally not recommended.
“The idea behind a replacement or a fusion is we are trying to keep people active,” DeVries says. “We’d like them to do the things they want to do within reason.”