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Ankle arthrodesis

3-minute read

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.

Illustration of an arthritic ankle.
An arthritic ankle.

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 a metal plate, a metal rod, or screws.

What complications can happen?

Some of these can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • unsightly scarring of your skin
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • difficulty passing urine

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

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after 1 to 2 days.

To start with, spend most of the time with your leg raised on a chair or footstool.

Most people need to have the cast for about 8 to 12 weeks. You will need to use a walking aid until it is removed. 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.

Summary

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
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


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