Many people feel the pain of wear and tear on their joints as they get older. Sometimes, however, “normal” wear and tear can become painful and start to impact your everyday life. Cartilage in a joint can wear away over time, causing serious mobility issues. One of the most debilitating areas this can happen is your ankle. If your ankle has degenerated to this point, you might need ankle replacement surgery. If that is the case, you no doubt have many questions. Here, Cary Orthopaedics foot and ankle specialist Dr. Eric Lukosius answers your questions about ankle replacement surgery.

What is ankle replacement surgery?

Ankle replacement surgery, also known as ankle arthroplasty, is a type of joint replacement surgery where the ankle joint is replaced with an artificial implant. Your ankle specialist will remove the damaged parts of your ankle and replace them with artificial components that work together and move like your natural joint.

Why might you need an ankle replacement?

Ankle replacement surgery is most often needed when the cartilage in your ankle joint has worn down. This cartilage is necessary to protect the bones in your ankle from rubbing together directly. This rubbing can cause significant pain and inflammation.

This wearing down can happen for several reasons, but usually, it results from one form of arthritis. The main types of arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that develops when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis can happen because of a physical injury that results in the wearing out of the joint.

Unfortunately, cartilage is not a tissue that is naturally replenished. The good news is that discomfort can be remedied through many different treatment options from your orthopaedic specialist.

What are the benefits of ankle replacement surgery?

If you are trying to decide whether or not ankle replacement is the right choice for you, first consider the benefits. First and foremost, living with the constant pain of a degenerated ankle joint can be almost intolerable. Ankle replacement surgery is one of the most permanent solutions to deal with that pain.

Also, the condition can get worse as time goes on. Not only will it not heal on its own, but if you have a condition that caused this degeneration, it may even decline.

If your ankle is in this painful condition, then your overall quality of life may be suffering. You are most likely experiencing a lack of mobility and find that you can’t perform your everyday routine like you used to. Ankle replacement surgery will give you this mobility and freedom back, allowing you to live a full life again.

What should you expect during surgery?

Most ankle replacement surgeries involve the use of general anesthesia, which means you’ll be put to sleep while the procedure takes place. During the surgery, your surgeon will make an incision in your ankle to allow them access to the affected joints. Then, your surgeon will carefully remove the damaged cartilage and bone. Next, they will attach new replacement pieces designed to fit right into place. Usually, a particular type of cement helps to keep the new bone replacement parts in place.

Typically, smooth plastic pieces are installed in the ankle to allow the new bone replacements to glide smoothly as your ankle bends and flexes. When this is all finished, the surgeon will then close the incision.

What is the recovery like?

After your ankle replacement surgery, you can expect some recovery time involved. You may experience significant pain immediately after surgery, but medications will help ease this pain. After a few days, this should subside. Most likely, your ankle will be in a splint or cast for at least a couple of weeks while it heals. You can also expect to be on crutches for some time.

Your physician will give you information about moving your joint and what to expect when starting to walk again. However, there is a good chance you might need physical therapy to help regain total movement. 

Ankle replacement surgery in Cary and Raleigh

The foot and ankle specialists at Cary Orthopaedics have extensive experience with ankle replacement surgery. If you are experiencing ankle discomfort, our experts will examine you and offer a wide range of treatment options, including non-invasive choices. Don’t live with pain. Make an appointment with one of our orthopaedic specialists today.