If you have severe and chronic pain in your ankle when you walk, your doctor may suggest ankle fusion surgery. Ankle fusion permanently connects the ankle bones together to ease pain that occurs when you move your ankle. The fused bones reduce how much your ankle can move, which reduces swelling and inflammation. It may help if you suffer from severe ankle arthritis. This procedure is also called ankle arthrodesis.
It’s common for your orthopedic surgeon to suggest ankle fusion only if your pain has not responded well to other treatments, such as pain medication, steroid injections, walking aids, reduced physical activity, or special shoes or braces.
If you are a candidate for ankle fusion, your will be scheduled for surgery, which usually lasts a few hours. Before the operation, you will be given a sedative and anesthesia so you are asleep and do not feel pain during the procedure.
To access your ankle joint, the surgeon will make one or more incisions around your ankle or foot. Using special tools, the surgeon will prepare your ankle joint for fusion by removing cartilage between the bones. The doctor will then use metal hardware such as pins and plates to connect the bones and hold your ankle joint in position.
Depending on the severity of your condition, the doctor may be able to perform arthroscopic surgery, which is a minimally invasive technique that uses smaller incisions and a tiny camera to guide the surgical process.
After ankle fusion surgery, you may need to stay at the hospital for a few days for your initial recovery. You will need to keep weight off your ankle for several weeks, and many people use crutches, wheelchairs or other walking aids to move around. It can take from six to 12 weeks for your bones to heal adequately so you can bear weight and walk independently.