By Daniel Wieking, MD
Q. I have chronic ankle pain. What can I do to find relief?
A. Sometimes braces and medication are not enough to help people suffering from chronic ankle pain. Fortunately, there is another option: total ankle replacement.
This surgical procedure replaces the joint that sits between the heel and the leg bone. When the smooth surface of this joint deteriorates because of a loss of cartilage, then pain, swelling, and stiffness ensue. This can be caused from an injury, rheumatoid arthritis, or normal wear and tear on the joint.
One of the benefits of total ankle replacement is that it allows patients to maintain mobility in their ankle in addition to relieving the pain. There is some evidence that this may even prevent future arthritis elsewhere in the foot.
An alternative to total ankle replacement is fusing the ankle, which means removing the joint and allowing the remaining bones to heal into one bone. Even though this will take away the pain, it leaves patients will stiffness, which limits mobility. In some instances, people who have had ankle fusion surgery may be able to undergo total ankle replacement to restore their ankle mobility.
Not everyone is a candidate for total ankle replacement, so who is? Patients that can benefit from this surgery are generally healthy, not significantly overweight, and with lower activity demands. If your job requires you to do strenuous activity using your ankle you may want to consider other options.
If you have ankle pain that just won’t go away even after trying braces and medication, or if a stiff ankle has hindered your ability to do activities you once loved, then talk to an orthopedic surgeon about whether total ankle replacement is right for you.