Ankle fusion (arthrodesis) is the surgical fusion of bones that form the ankle joint. The ankle joint is formed by the tibia, talus and the fibula bones. The goal of ankle arthrodesis is to relieve pain in the affected joint by surgically eliminating the joint.

What are the indications of ankle fusion?

Ankle fusion is recommended for the treatment of severe end stage arthritis that has not responded to conservative treatment measures such as medications or injections. The other indications include ankle infections, neurological ankle instability and tumors.

Ankle conditions should be evaluated for proper diagnosis and treatment. Accurate diagnosis comprises of a detailed medical history and physical examination. Imaging tests such as X-rays, Doppler test and MRI may be ordered.

How is the procedure performed?

Ankle fusion can be performed as an arthroscopic or open traditional surgery. The approach for an open technique can be either from anterior (front) aspect or lateral (side) aspect of the ankle. The joints are then fused together with the help of screws, wires, plates or rods. Bone grafting is recommended in cases of substantial bone loss. This is done using a graft taken from another part of your body (autograft) or donor tissue (allograft).

The post-operative guidelines to be followed immediately after ankle fusion include:

  • Keep your cast or dressing dry and do not remove for the specified time period given by your surgeon.
  • Avoid bearing weight on the operated ankle joint and use crutches or wheelchairs for a few weeks.
  • Elevate your foot above heart level to minimize swelling.
  • Follow a healthy diet and quit smoking to help with healing.

The recovery time following fusion will depend on the technique employed.

Ankle fusion is usually a safe procedure. However, as with all surgical procedures, complications after ankle fusion can include infection, nerve damage, unresolved pain, non-union of bones, excessive swelling and stiffness, and irritation from foreign material such as pins or screws.

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