Ankle fusion is another option to treat pain, inflammation and degeneration of cartilage in the ankle joint due to arthritis. It is also known as ankle arthrodesis. The ankle joint is also called the tibiotalar joint. It’s where the shinbone (tibia) rests on top of a bone of the foot called the talus. The ankle also includes the subtalar joint. This is where 2-foot bones called the talus and the calcaneus meet.
Ankle arthrodesis can be performed either as an open surgery or minimally arthroscopic surgery:
- Open surgery: This is a traditional form of surgery in which a large incision is made with a scalpel to access the surgical site. Although a larger wound generally means a longer recovery time, it may be more appropriate for extensive ankle damage.
- Arthroscopic surgery: This is a form of laparoscopy in which specialised tools access the surgical site via small “keyhole” incisions. It is an effective form of surgery with faster recovery times but may not be the best option for everyone.
Those who may need ankle fusion may experience the following symptoms:
- Severe pain
- Difficulty walking
This option is offered when joint preservation surgery has been unsuccessful and is commonly provided if you have arthritis of the joint (due to a previous injury that has damaged the joint), a severe deformity of the rear part of the foot (such as a flat foot), and high-arches in the foot, which leads to a twisted and unstable ankle joint.
Ankle Arthrodesis Procedure Explained
This surgery is done under general anaesthetic. Firstly, an incision is made on the outer side of the ankle. Next, damaged cartilage is removed to expose the healthy bone, and joint surfaces are reshaped to correct a deformity if necessary. Next, the bones and the joints are positioned correctly and compressed, anchoring them together with metal screws. This will encourage the bones to grow together, fusing the ankle joint.
Swelling will need to be reduced before discharge, usually, 2 days and a cast will need to be applied for 12-16 weeks to allow the bones to fuse. No weight should be applied to the affected ankle for the first 6 weeks following the procedure.
Risks of Ankle Arthrodesis
Like with any other procedure, there are some (rare) risks. These include:
- Blood clots
- Nerve damage
- Non-union (lack of fusion)
- Malunion (displaced healing)
How Much Does Ankle Arthrodesis Cost?
- Done privately in the UK, this surgery costs around £5,280.
- This treatment is available on the NHS for those who meet the criteria, however there is a waiting list of up to 18 weeks.