What is an ankle fusion?
Simply put, an ankle fusion includes removing the cartilage from the ankle joint and placing hardware across it so that the bone grows together and the joint is eliminated.
Why are ankle fusions performed?
Ankle fusions are most commonly performed on patients with painful end-stage ankle arthritis which no longer responds to other treatments. An ankle fusion can effectively reduce disabling arthritis pain. Arthritis can occur in the ankle for several reasons including: most commonly from prior injury,such as an ankle fracture or ankle sprains, but also lower extremity deformity, metabolic problems (gout), and immunological problems (rheumatoid arthritis).
Can I still walk if my ankle is fused?
You can absolutely maintain your ability to walk with an ankle fusion. The range of motion of your ankle may be decreased depending on how much movement you had prior to the procedure, but you will be able to walk. The ultimate goal of an ankle fusion is to reduce the pain to keep you mobile. There are joints adjacent to the ankle which contribute to motion around the ankle. Most patients can walk without any perceptible limp after fusion
How is an ankle fusion performed?
Although the approach may vary depending on the alignment of the ankle, the general principles remain the same: remove any remaining cartilage and the underlying dense arthritic bone from the ankle joint, correct any existing deformity, and stabilize the fusion while it heals.
Methods of stabilization may also vary from patient to patient depending on a multitude of different factors which will be discussed in detail with your foot and ankle specialist.
Ankle fusion can be performed as an open procedure or using an arthroscopic technique.
Are there alternatives to ankle fusion?
Yes there are alternatives to fusion. There are cartilage replacement techniques which can be used for focal areas of injury and total ankle replacement can be performed in lieu of fusion if you meet the criteria.
Is the term ankle arthrodesis the same as ankle fusion?
Yes, these are equivalent terms and can be used interchangably. Arthrodesis is a term that is used more commonly in medical literature when discussing fusion of a joint.
What are the complications commonly associated with ankle fusion?
Non union (lack of fusion) is a common complication that occurs in approximately 10% of fusion attempts. This sometimes requires reoperation if the pain continues. Other complications can include fusion in less than an ideal position (malunion), aggravation of arthritis of adjacent joints, and hardware irritation. One trade off of an ankle fusion is that it will put more stress on adjacent joints causing those joints to become painful in the future. Your foot and ankle specialist will review other complications that may be associated with ankle fusion.
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