total ankle replacement with dr. thomas mcdonald

Ankle Fusion Or Ankle Replacement?

If you are dealing with significant ankle pain due to joint degeneration or arthritis onset, and you haven’t been able to effectively manage the condition with conservative treatments, a corrective procedure may be your best option. When surgically addressing degenerative ankle joints, surgeons oftentimes pursue one of two methods – ankle fusion or ankle replacement.

Each procedure offers its own advantages and potential drawbacks, and in today’s blog we’re going to take a closer look at both operations so that you can learn more about which one may be right for you.

Ankle Replacement Surgery Or Ankle Fusion?

We’re going to use this blog to provide some basic advice about both procedures, but this should not be your only source of information when deciding which treatment is right for you. Your treating surgeon will be able to view your ankle in person and provide individualized insight, so it is always in your best interest to strongly consider the advice of a provider who can see your ankle and assess imaging results in person. With that said, here’s a closer look at each procedure:

  • Ankle Fusion – An ankle fusion procedure involves removing some of the damaged ankle joint and worn cartilage before fusing the bones in the area together with screws, plates and bone grafts. The fusion helps to limit ankle movement, and since it’s this movement that is causing your pain, it can be an effective solution for the right patient.
  • Ankle Replacement – An ankle replacement procedure involves removing the arthritic ankle joint and replacing it with an artificial prosthesis, much like you would with a more common joint replacement like a knee or a hip. Because the artificial joint is designed to mimic the function of a healthy joint, you will be able to retain more flexibility in the ankle, but the pain will be gone.
  • Ankle fusion used to be the standard, but nowadays ankle replacement has become the more popular option for a number of reasons. Not only has modern medicine advanced to the stage where the surgery can be carried out precisely and effectively with relative ease, ankle replacement is oftentimes preferred to fusion because of the following:
  • Shorter Recovery Time – Patients pursuing fusion can expect to be in a cast afterward for up to 12 weeks, whereas patients who undergo ankle replacement usually only need a cast for 3-6 weeks before they start physical therapy.
  • More Range Of Motion – As we mentioned above, you will maintain more ankle flexibility and range of motion when a replacement procedure is pursued because you’re not trying to fix the problem by limiting movement like you are in a fusion procedure.
  • Return To More Activities – Because ankle replacement helps to maintain more natural motion in the ankle joint, you can get back to doing all the physical activities you loved after your rehab is complete. Following a fusion procedure, some activities may be off limits.
  • Highly Effective – Fusion certainly provides a permanent solution, but ankle replacement is also highly effective at providing a one-time solution. Research shows that more than 90 percent of patients still have a highly functioning artificial joint 10 years after their replacement procedure, and those numbers will only improve as technology continues to advance.

Despite the numerous benefits, ankle replacement isn’t the perfect solution for everyone. Very old patients, obese individuals and those with health conditions that may affect healthy circulation to the extremities, like heart disease or diabetes, may find that a fusion procedure is a better fit for their needs. You’ll want to go over your health, your lifestyle and your goals during your consultation with your foot and ankle specialist to figure out what operation is right for you.

For more information about treating ankle arthritis or either procedure we talked about, reach out to Dr. McDonald and his team today at (860) 244-8889.

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