Ankle pain and stiffness can significantly impact your quality of life by making daily activities increasingly difficult. When conservative treatments can’t provide sufficient relief, your podiatrist may recommend ankle replacement surgery to relieve discomfort and restore mobility.
However, recovering from a total ankle replacement procedure requires careful planning and adherence to post-operative instructions. Here’s what you should know about this type of surgery at Annapolis Foot & Ankle Center, how our highly skilled podiatric surgeons can help you get back on your feet, and essential ankle replacement recovery tips to safely ensure a successful healing process.
What Total Ankle Replacement Surgery Entails
During ankle replacement surgery, also known as ankle arthroplasty, your podiatric surgeon removes the damaged bone and cartilage in the ankle joint and replaces them with artificial components. The prosthetic joint has three parts:
- A titanium piece that attaches to the tibia
- A cobalt-chrome piece that connects to the talus
- A plastic piece placed in between
Unlike ankle fusion—which permanently joins two or more bones in the ankle joint to prevent painful movement and further damage—ankle replacement surgeries aim to alleviate joint pain while preserving function.
Preparing for Ankle Replacement Surgery
You’ll need to keep weight off the affected ankle for the first four weeks after your surgery. While you’re encouraged to rest and elevate your ankle as much as possible, you can use crutches to get up for meals and use the bathroom.
Take a good look at your home—is it ready for a smooth recovery? Enlist friends or family to help you move furniture or make other arrangements prior to your procedure. Having people you can call on to run errands and complete other tasks for you makes staying off your feet for the first four weeks after surgery much easier to manage
Total Ankle Replacement Recovery Benchmarks
Recovering from ankle replacement surgery is a gradual process that can take from six months to a year. While each patient’s recovery time varies depending on individual factors, such as age, overall health, and the severity of the joint damage, here’s an overview of the typical benchmarks:
- Approximately four weeks after surgery, your podiatrist replaces the splint or cast protecting the surgical site with a removable boot. Most patients can begin bearing some weight on the ankle.
- Roughly six weeks after surgery, your podiatrist takes an X-ray to see how the ankle is healing and whether you can stop using crutches.
- Around three months after surgery, you’ll swap the boot for a special shoe and brace.
- Six months after surgery, patients are typically 75 percent recovered.
- One year after surgery, most patients have fully recovered and returned to normal activity.
Ankle Replacement Surgery Recovery Tips
As you can see, recovering from total ankle replacement surgery takes time. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to jumpstart the healing process and ensure a successful outcome. Use the following tips as a guide as you recover.
Follow Your Post-Operative Instructions
After your surgery, our team provides you with thorough post-operative instructions. Diligently adhering to our guidelines on weight-bearing restrictions, wound care, and medication management—as well as attending all follow-up appointments—is a critical component of ankle replacement recovery.
Protect the Surgical Site
Keep the surgical site clean and dry to prevent infection. Follow our wound care instructions and watch for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or increased pain.
Elevate and Ice Your Ankle
Elevating your leg so that the ankle is above your heart and applying ice to the surgical area can help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. We’ll provide specific guidance on how often and how long it’s safe to ice your ankle.
Manage Your Post-Operative Pain
Pain management is essential during the early stages of recovery. We’ll prescribe pain medications and provide instructions on how to take them so that you stay comfortable. Taking pain medications as directed is crucial. Your reliance on these medications should decrease as you continue to recover.
Use Mobility Aids
Using crutches, walkers, scooters, and other mobility aids can make it much easier to get around in the initial stages of recovery. These aids also help by reducing strain on the surgical site.
Get Physical Therapy
Physical therapy plays a vital role in ankle replacement recovery. Working with a physical therapist helps you improve strength, flexibility, and balance, and teaches you how to walk without putting excessive strain on your new ankle joint.
Return to Weight Bearing and Activity Gradually
We’ll give you detailed instructions on when and how much weight you can bear on the new ankle as you progress through the recovery process and begin resuming activities. You’ll go from keeping weight off the ankle to bearing partial weight on it to full weight-bearing under our careful supervision.
Stay Hydrated and Eat a Balanced Diet
Proper nutrition and hydration are essential to the healing process. Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, calcium-rich dairy products (or dairy alternatives), and other foods that support tissue repair and overall health.
Wear Supportive Footwear
Choose supportive, comfortable shoes with proper arch support and cushioning. We might recommend orthopedic shoes or custom orthotics if your feet require additional support and stability.
Don’t Hesitate to Reach Out for Guidance
At Annapolis Foot & Ankle Center, our highly skilled, board-certified podiatric surgeons Dr. Eric S. Harmelin, DPM, and Dr. Nicholas Fifelski, DPM, are here every step of the way as you recover from your total ankle replacement surgery. If you experience any unusual symptoms, concerns, or setbacks, don't hesitate to reach out to our experienced podiatric team.
Get Back on Your Feet as Quickly and as Safely as Possible
Ankle replacement surgery can be life-changing, but the journey to full recovery requires commitment, patience, and the guidance of our experienced podiatrists. Following these ankle replacement recovery tips and collaborating closely with our podiatry team can help you get back on your feet and back to your active lifestyle as soon as possible.