When an ankle is injured, it tends to become more susceptible to future injuries. Over time, this weakness can cause instability within the joint. One of the ways to address this situation is through an ankle fusion surgery. By fusing the ankle, more strength is added to the joint. In return, there is less range of motion experienced. There are other pros and cons of ankle fusion surgery to be considered as well, so here are some of the key points to consider.
The Pros of Ankle Fusion Surgery
1. It is a permanent fix for the problem.
Ankle fusion surgery isn’t just for those that have suffered injuries or above average wear and tear. It also helps to correct issues that can make walking bothersome when osteoporosis sets in. For people under the age of 60, this surgery is more common than a complete ankle replacement simple because it allows for more mobility from long-term perspective than an ankle replacement will provide. Artificial joints typically wear out in 15-20 years from regular use.
2. It provides instant pain relief.
The issues that someone may be facing within their ankle joint are immediately relieved after the fusion has been completed. This often makes up for the lack of movement that typically comes after the surgery has been completed. Many are often limited by the condition of their ankle as it is, so having a similar range of motion or gait without the pain can help to make life a lot better for some.
3. It may become possible to bear full weight on the joint in time.
One of the advantages listed for a complete ankle replacement is the fact that patients can put their full weight on the joint after healing and physical therapy. This is also one of the advantages of an ankle fusion. Although people typically run with a limp after healing and physical therapy, there is a good chance that bearing weight on the fused joint can happen in the near future.
4. It restores a lifestyle.
Many people don’t realize all of the things that they’ve given up over time because of the condition of their ankle. After going through with the ankle fusion surgery and getting their strength back, they can begin walking and doing all of the things they used to do before their joint started limiting their motion. The amount of freedom that this surgery can provide people simply cannot be ignored.
5. It takes about 2-3 months for a complete recovery.
After an ankle fusion surgery, a padded plaster cast is placed on the joint to protect it. This initial cast is removed after a couple of weeks and is replaced by a shorter, more traditional cast. At the 8-12 week mark, x-rays are taken of the ankle to make sure that the bones have fused properly. If given the all-clear, the cast comes off and physical therapy begins.
6. Modern surgery techniques don’t even require screws or metalwork.
Certain ankle fusions that use a frame called the Ilizarov frame help even severe arthritic issues to be corrected without the need for screws to be placed into the ankle. This helps to decrease the possibilities of an infection setting in during the healing process and encourages faster healing to occur.
The Cons of Ankle Fusion Surgery
1. It can create wear and tear on other joints of the body.
The ankle itself may become stronger once it is fused, but the end result is the possibility of additional wear and tear on other joints. The knees, hips, and the other ankle joint in particular are prone to more wear and this can create additional damage over time that may also need to be addressed.
2. The movement of the ankle is permanently stopped.
Once the ankle has become fused, there is not going to be the same level of movement within the joint. This means a person’s walking gait becomes a little different and this can be awkward or even socially uncomfortable for some. It also means that certain activities may no longer be available to the patient because of the lack of available movement, forcing certain lifestyle changes.
3. It may create healing complications and other unknown risks.
Any medical procedure has certain risks that are associated with it. There is always a chance for an infection to occur or for a delay in healing. The fusion of the bones may not be permanent or may heal in the wrong position in rare instances, requiring a second surgery to correct the issue. There may not be any specialists near some communities that can perform this surgery either, requiring sometimes large travel costs in addition to the surgery costs. Anesthesia for the surgery even has its own set of risk factors.
4. Uneven wear patterns can happen on the foot.
Depending on the type of ankle fusion surgery that occurs, the fibula bone can become enlarged and wind up creating shoe wear problems. This may create blisters, bunions, or other foot-related issues unless orthotics are placed within the shoe to correct the issue. Add onto this the issue of ankles commonly being set at right angles, which is an unnatural resting position for some, and there can be skin breakdown over time that must be treated.
5. There may be injuries that occur because of the fusion.
Although unlikely and rare, some people experience blood vessel injuries or nerve injuries after the ankle fusion surgery has been completed. If the bones of the ankle don’t create a beneficial union as expected, this may further increase the risks of this happening. Severe blood vessel injuries may actually result in an amputation, while nerve injuries may create a permanent numbness in the foot.
6. Patient health may not allow the surgery to be completed.
There can be a number of reasons why a surgery may be delayed or canceled. The most common reason is a skin problem that occurs at the surgical site. Blisters, a rash, or other wounds will stop the ankle fusion surgery until the area is able to properly heal. A person’s overall health and lifestyle habits are also evaluated. Smokers may be asked to quit for at least 30 days before the surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots happening.
The pros and cons of ankle fusion surgery show that it can be beneficial to many who are under the age of 60 and are struggling with joint problems. It may not be the right treatment option for highly active people or those with severe injuries. As long as the disadvantages are properly managed, however, this surgery is a highly effective way to regain the ability to walk without pain once again.