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Joint Fusion Surgery for Foot Problems

Your feet may not look like amazingly complex mechanisms on the outside, but they actually contain over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments; 26 bones; and 30 joints. The joints of the feet connect and articulate the bones of your toes, midfeet, and ankles, giving you your ability to walk, run, dance, stand, and maintain your balance.

If a joint in your foot has sustained significant damage from an injury or degenerative condition, you may experience severe pain and disability until your podiatrist recommends joint fusion surgery. Take a look at the answers to the following frequently asked questions about this form of corrective foot treatment.

What Does Joint Fusion Surgery Involve?

Doctors refer to joint fusion surgery as arthrodesis. This type of surgery involves attaching two or more bones in a joint to each other, fixing them in place so that the joint no longer moves, in many cases relieving chronic pain from friction within the joint. Arthrodesis can ease pain in feet, ankles, wrists, fingers, toes, and spinal joints.

Some foot fusion procedures require general anesthesia, while others may call for a local anesthetic only. After making an incision to expose the joint in question, the podiatrist will first remove the damaged cartilage between the bone ends, which allows the bone ends to grow together or fuse into one solid bony structure.

Donor bone (or bone transplanted from elsewhere in your own body) maybe placed within the joint and will help the bones fuse together properly. To keep the bones in position during this process, your podiatrist may also install plates and screws in the bones. The metal hardware usually remains in place for life.

What Foot Conditions Benefit From Fusion Surgery?

Podiatrists most commonly recommend joint fusion surgery for degenerative conditions such as arthritis. If a joint in your toe, ankle, or foot develops severe arthritis due to natural wear and tear, an acute injury, or an autoimmune issue such as rheumatoid arthritis, fusion may offer the only means of significant pain relief.

Other foot conditions may also benefit from joint fusion surgery. Examples include bunions, flat feet that don't respond to orthotics, and lingering pain from a failed previous joint replacement procedure in the big toe. However, your podiatrist will probably try non-invasive treatment methods before turning to fusion surgery.

What Can You Expect Following Joint Fusion Surgery?

Immediately following your joint fusion surgery, you can expect to wear a brace or cast so the bones in the joint can have every chance to fuse. Since you can't put any weight on the foot during this period without potentially spoiling the surgery, you may receive a prescription for a knee scooter or crutches.

Pain relievers can help you cope with postoperative discomfort during the recovery period. Your podiatrist may prescribe opioid painkillers for a limited period. However, non-opioid pain relievers such as Tylenol and Gabapentin may provide sufficient pain relief without the addiction risk opioids present.

Over time, you may transition from your cast or brace to a walking boot or specialized sandal. Full healing from joint fusion surgery may take at least 12 weeks. Potential complications and side effects may include nerve damage, bone misalignment, bleeding, infection, scarring, and problems involving the joint hardware.

You'll need to rebuild your foot strength and flexibility after any kind of foot surgery, not only to break up scar tissue and promote soft tissue healing at the surgery site but also to rehabilitate foot and leg muscles weakened by inactivity. Your podiatrist can recommend a physical therapy regimen to get you back on your feet.

Don't smoke during your pre and post surgery period. Smoking can impair bone growth, which, in turn, might lead to a painful form of incomplete fusion called pseudoarthrosis.

Ankle & Foot Clinic of Everett can diagnose your foot condition and administer a wide range of surgical and nonsurgical treatments, including joint fusion surgery if necessary. Contact our clinic today to schedule a diagnostic consultation and discuss your options with our skilled team.

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