Ankle fusion is a surgical procedure that becomes necessary in patients that suffer from painful and worn out ankle joints. This condition is usually known under the name degenerative arthritis. This is the reason why some doctors refer this procedure as an ankle arthrodesis. One of the most common causes of this state is an ankle fracture. After a serious fracture there is a huge probability that the joint is going to wear out over time and even become painful for the patient. Of course, the joint that is out of balance will probably wear out in a much faster pace than usual. Still, this process takes literary years so a patient probably won’t notice it until it becomes too late. There are other types of arthritis that can lead to similar symptoms. For example, rheumatoid arthritis will affect the ankle which will eventually lead to a painful joint.
The main goal of ankle fusion surgery is to remove the surfaces of the ankle joint so the tibia can fuse or grow together with the talus. This isn’t anything unusual as there are a huge number of different surgical procedures for many different joints in the body. Before the use of artificial joints this was the primary way for treatment of severely painful joints. It is worth noting that fusion is still the best option in some cases.
Preparation, procedure and everything else
When it comes to procedure ankle fusion surgery isn’t all that different from other operations of similar kind. What I mean is – there are a few somewhat different techniques that will provide if not the same, than certainly a similar outcome.
The most common method is the open one. Surgeon makes an incision through the skin to open the joint and then removes the articular cartilage (which triggers the healing mechanisms as if the joint was broken or fractured) surfaces of the ankle joint by using a surgical saw. Making correct angles of the cut surfaces is of utmost importance. Large metal screws and metal plates can be used to keep bones in a proper position.
In the last few years use of an arthroscope is becoming more and more popular – especially with younger personnel. This device acts as a miniature TV camera that is placed into the joint through a small incision. The same thing applies to other instruments as well. The cartilage surface needs to be removed by using a small rotary cutting tool. After that screws are placed to hold the bones so they can heal or fuse, depending on the need.
Unfortunately, this procedure, like most invasive surgical procedures, isn’t completely safe. Something can always go wrong so being prepared for unwanted side-effects is always a smart thing to do. Nerves or blood vessels can be injured, infection can spread and both nonunion and malunion of the bones is possible. Even anesthesia can cause some symptoms that aren’t desired.
After the surgery ends there are some things a patient needs to know and some rules that he must abide to. Wearing a padded plaster cast for at least two weeks is expected before you get the regular short-leg cast. Even then you won’t be allowed to put down your weight from eight to twelve weeks if you want your bones to properly heal or fuse.