dr. thomas mcdonald foot and ankle surgeon

Walking Expectations After Total Ankle Replacement

For patients with significant ankle dysfunction that has not responded well to conservative care treatments, a total ankle replacement procedure may be just what you need to greatly improve ankle function and your overall quality of life. With the help of total ankle replacement, we can get you back to walking and moving comfortably, but that process won’t happen overnight. In today’s blog, we help you manage your expectations and your recovery timeline for getting back to walking comfortably after total ankle replacement.

Walking Again After Total Ankle Replacement

Your individual recovery program will vary based on your specific circumstances, so your rehab timeline may look a little different than the general timeline we’ll discuss below. The instructions and care recommendations you receive from your treating physician will trump any of the following advice, but here’s a basic idea of what you can expect as you work towards regaining strength and mobility in your new ankle joint.

After surgery, your foot will likely be protected in a cast for a short period of time. You will be non-weight bearing during the initial period, and it will be helpful to keep the foot elevated to reduce swelling and inflammation. Patients can expect to transition to a removable boot within 2-4 weeks, although some patients may need a full six weeks before they are cleared for some weight bearing.

Once you’ve been cleared for some weight bearing, you’ll want to follow your doctor’s instructions in terms of when you can remove the boot from your foot and how to safely bear weight as your rehabilitation progresses. After you’ve been cleared for weight bearing, you’ll also begin some physical therapy exercises. These exercises can make a major difference in the extent of your recovery, so it’s imperative that you really throw yourself into a PT program. Your in-clinic and self-guided physical therapy programs will focus on restoring ankle:

  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Range of Motion
  • Balance
  • Stress Tolerance

Most patients begin to notice that they are walking more comfortably than they were prior to their injury around the eight-week mark when most people ditch the removable boot and transition back to a normal walking shoe, but others may take up to 4-6 months to feel like their ankle is better than it was prior to surgery. Even though you are feeling stronger than you were prior to the operation at this point, know that your recovery journey is not done. Most patients are only about 75 percent recovered by the six-month mark, and full recovery can take up to 12 months. If you really want to restore as much strength and function as possible in your new ankle, you need to keep pursuing physical therapy and your surgeon’s care recommendations.

Most people find that they will be able to pursue more physical activities than they could prior to their operation, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be without restrictions. Some high impact activities may still be off the table, as could certain contact sports. It will be important to talk with your surgeon prior to your operation so that you understand what types of activities you’ll be able to pursue assuming everything goes as planned so that you have realistic expectations and goals. We know that we can greatly improve your overall quality of life and help you walk comfortably with the help of a total ankle replacement procedure, but you will still have some physical limitations to consider.

Total ankle replacement is a wonderful option for patients with severe ankle joint dysfunction who want to remain active and independent. Dr. McDonald and his team would be more than happy to chart a course to help you get back to moving comfortably with total ankle replacement or a different treatment technique. For more information, or for help with a foot and ankle issue you’re dealing with, pick up the phone and give Dr. McDonald a call today at (860) 244-8889.

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