Dr. thomas mcdonald patient after foot and ankle surgery

Total Ankle Replacement Recovery Timeline – Days, Weeks and Months

The total ankle replacement procedure can be just what you need to alleviate your ankle pain and get you back to moving comfortably, but like any joint replacement procedure, you will have an extended recovery timeline. We’re confident that this process will all be worth it in the end, but we always want patients to fully comprehend what they can expect during the days, weeks and months that follow their total ankle procedure. Below, we take a closer look at the typical recovery timeline following a total ankle replacement procedure.

What To Expect During Your Total Ankle Replacement Recovery

Although you won’t be completely recovered for months following your total ankle replacement procedure, every day is important as you work towards your rehabilitation goals. Here’s a look at what you can expect in the days, weeks and months that follow your total ankle replacement.

  • The First Few Days – Depending on the specifics of your situation, you may spend a day or two in the recovery area of the medical center before you are discharged home. Discomfort will likely be at its highest in the first few days after your operation, but your care team can help ensure you understand how to manage any pain with prescription medications or over-the-counter options. The foot will be in a splint or brace, and you will be asked to use crutches or a similar device to aid in movement. No weight bearing is allowed at this time, so you’ll want to start getting used to moving around without bearing weight through your leg. Many patients say that their ankle feels better just a few days after the procedure than it did prior to the operation, especially if they were dealing with severe arthritis.
  • The First Four Weeks – Weight bearing isn’t typically allowed for 3-4 weeks after your operation, but your treating surgeon will be able to provide you with a more individualized timeline. Even though you can’t bear weight through your ankle at this time, you should still find ways to be active and upright to help with your circulation. You’ll also likely begin physical therapy near the end of the four-week mark as well. Physical therapy will play a major role in helping you establish strength, flexibility and range of motion in your artificial ankle joint. Do your therapy exercises every day to help achieve the greatest functional improvements. You’ll also want to be very mindful of keeping your incision sites clean during the first few weeks until the wounds have fully closed.
  • Months 1-4 – After about a month, you can expect to get clearance from your treating surgeon to bear some weight through your ankle. You may transition to a walking boot for a few weeks, and you can expect to be back in a sneaker around the two-month mark, but again this will depend on a number of individual variables. Continuing to do your physical therapy exercises during these first few months is extremely important for strengthening the areas around your artificial ankle.
  • Beyond Four Months – Most patients are about 75 percent recovered from their surgery by six months post-op, and they are starting to get back to normal physical activities at this point. Full recovery can take up to a year, but almost all patients say that their ankle feels much better at 4-6 months post-op than it did prior to the operation, even if they still have months of healing still ahead of them. Low-impact exercises are typically fine at this point, but talk to your doctor if you want to pursue some more intense exercises or activities. You’ve come so far, you don’t need to suffer a setback at this point because you overstressed the area while you were still recovering, so talk to your doctor if you have any questions about your activity clearances.

An extended rehabilitation program may not be ideal, but it’s far better than the alternative, which is dealing with significant pain in your ankles and feet every single day. Time is going to pass regardless, so you might as well be working towards a more comfortable tomorrow instead of living in fear of pain with each step. For more information about total ankle replacement surgery, or to talk to a specialist about a different foot or ankle issue, reach out to Dr. McDonald’s office today at (860) 244-8889.

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