This page will give you information about ankle arthrodesis. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a group of conditions that cause damage to one or more joints.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, where there is gradual wear and tear of a joint.
Some other types of arthritis are associated with inflammation of the joints that can eventually lead to severe joint damage.
Arthritis eventually wears away the normal cartilage covering the surface of the joint and the bone underneath becomes damaged.
What are the benefits of surgery?
You should get less pain and be able to walk more easily.
Are there any alternatives to ankle arthrodesis?
Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen can help control the pain of arthritis.
Using a walking stick on the opposite side to the affected ankle can make walking easier. A plastic splint or a stiff ankle boot with a cushioned heel is sometimes helpful. Physiotherapy may help to strengthen weak muscles.
A steroid injection into your ankle joint can sometimes reduce pain and stiffness for several months.
An arthroscopy (keyhole surgery) to clean out your ankle joint can give some relief for 6 to 12 months.
All these measures become less effective if your arthritis gets worse and this is when your surgeon may recommend an ankle arthrodesis.
Some people with ankle arthritis can have an ankle replacement instead of an ankle arthrodesis.
What does the operation involve?
Various anaesthetic techniques are possible. The operation usually takes an hour to 90 minutes.
Your surgeon will remove the damaged joint surfaces. They will fix the bones together with screws and sometimes a metal plate or rod.
How can I prepare myself for the operation?
If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health. Your ankle arthrodesis is much less likely to be successful if you smoke.
Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight. Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
If you have not had the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, you may be at an increased risk of serious illness related to COVID-19 while you recover. Speak to your doctor or healthcare team if you would like to have the vaccine.
What complications can happen?
Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.
General complications of any operation
- infection of the surgical site (wound)
- allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
- blood clot in your leg
- blood clot in your lung
- difficulty passing urine
- chest infection
Specific complications of this operation
- damage to nerves around your ankle
- breakdown of the skin over your ankle
- infection in your ankle
- failure of the arthrodesis, where the bones do not join together
- severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of your foot and ankle
Consequences of this procedure
- unsightly scarring of your skin
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home the same day or the day after.
To start with, spend most of the time with your leg raised on a chair or footstool.
Most people need to have the cast or boot for about 8 to 12 weeks. You will need to use walking aids until you can walk well without them. Once the cast is removed, regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
Most people make a good recovery, have less pain, and can move about better.
If you have severe arthritis in your ankle, an ankle arthrodesis should reduce your pain and allow you to do more of your normal activities.IMPORTANT INFORMATION
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Last reviewed: September 2022