Whether caused by arthritis, an injury, or another podiatric problem, ankle pain can significantly impact your quality of life, making everything from daily tasks to your favorite activities more difficult.
Conservative measures such as medications, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and custom orthotics (special inserts or insoles that fit inside your shoes or braces for your feet or lower legs) often help relieve your ankle pain, inflammation, stiffness, or instability. However, if they fail to provide the lasting relief you need, a podiatrist may recommend total ankle replacement surgery. These procedures can effectively alleviate pain and discomfort, restore function, and improve mobility. However, they involve lengthy recovery periods.
Here’s what you should know about ankle replacement surgery recovery times, including what to expect, what you can do to expedite the healing process, and how Annapolis Foot & Ankle Center’s highly skilled board-certified podiatric surgeons can help you get back on your feet as quickly and as safely as possible.
Preparing for a Total Ankle Replacement Procedure
Our Central Maryland podiatric surgical specialists will thoroughly prepare you for your procedure, beginning with a consultation to evaluate your condition, discuss your medical history, and determine if ankle replacement is right for you. We use various diagnostic tests, like X-rays and MRI scans, to assess the extent of your joint damage and assist our surgical planning.
Sometimes, we might also recommend working with other members of your medical team to optimize your overall health, such as gaining better control of chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure or undergoing preoperative physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve joint flexibility, setting the stage for a smoother recovery.
Total Ankle Replacement Surgery: A Typical Recovery Timeline
Recovering from ankle replacement surgery is a gradual process that can take anywhere from six months to a year. Your recovery length varies substantially depending on wide-ranging individual factors, including your age, the severity of your joint damage, your overall health, whether you have a strong support system, and how closely you follow postoperative instructions like continuing physical therapy and complying with activity modifications and restrictions.
Here’s an overview of a typical ankle replacement surgery recovery timeline:
- Patients avoid bearing weight on the affected ankle for the first three weeks, with the surgical site protected by a splint or cast.
- At four weeks, the splint or cast is replaced with a removable boot, and most patients can bear some weight on the ankle and begin resuming certain activities.
- An X-ray taken approximately six weeks after surgery shows how well the ankle is healing and whether it’s safe for the patient to stop using crutches.
- About three months following surgery, most patients can replace the boot with a special shoe and brace.
- Patients are usually around 75 percent recovered six months after surgery.
- Full recovery with a complete return to activity can take up to 12 months.
Phases of Ankle Replacement Recovery Time
Though ankle replacement surgery recovery is highly individualized, here’s a general idea of what to expect as you recover.
Weeks One Through Three
During the first three weeks following your operation, you’ll wear a splint or cast to protect the surgical site. Though you’ll need to take it easy, keeping weight off your new ankle for the next approximately four to six weeks, you should get up and start moving as soon as you can. Using crutches or a walker can help you get around safely.
Elevating your leg, periodically icing the affected area, and taking an anti-inflammatory medication helps reduce postoperative pain, swelling, and discomfort. Meanwhile, resuming physical therapy is essential to improving mobility.
Weeks Four Through Six
Four to six weeks after your total ankle replacement, we’ll replace your cast or splint with a removable boot. You’ll gradually start putting more weight on your new ankle under our guidance, and your physical therapy sessions continue to focus on improving strength and range of motion. At around six weeks, we’ll take an X-ray to see how you’re healing and whether you can resume basic activities.
Months Three Through Six
As your mobility and strength gradually increase, we’ll swap the boot for a brace and special shoe—this usually occurs about three months after surgery. You’ll continue physical therapy sessions to enhance your gait and balance, and increase your activity as recommended.
Months Seven Through 12
Toward the end of the 12-month recovery period, you should feel significantly better than you did prior to surgery, with improved joint function and substantially reduced pain. Your physical therapy now transitions to advanced strengthening and balance exercises, and you may begin incorporating greater activities into your routine as directed.
Postoperative Tips to Speed Your Recovery
While numerous factors affect the length of your recovery, here are a few things you can do to speed up the process.
Follow Postoperative Medical Advice
Adhere to your postoperative treatment plan regarding weight-bearing, physical therapy, medications, resuming activity, and follow-up visits as closely as possible.
Get up and start moving around (carefully and on crutches) within a couple of days of surgery. Engage in recommended exercises and activities to improve strength and flexibility.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Ensure you have a balanced diet that provides adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. Proper nutrition is essential to support the healing process.
Rest and Recuperate
Give your body plenty of time to rest and recover. Prioritize getting sufficient sleep to promote optimal healing.
Drink around eight glasses of water each day during your recovery. Proper hydration aids in the healing process and reduces the risk of complications.
Elevate Your Foot
Keep your foot elevated as much as possible for the first one to two weeks after surgery to help reduce swelling and improve blood flow.
Manage Pain and Swelling
Take prescribed and over-the-counter pain medications as directed and use ice packs and compression stockings, as needed, to manage postoperative swelling.
Keep Your Incision Clean and Dry
Follow instructions for cleaning and dressing the incision and keep the area dry. Proper postoperative wound care can help prevent infection and promote healthy healing.