An ankle fusion surgery is a surgical procedure that is aimed at reducing, or restricting the movement of a damaged ankle joint.
A number of medical conditions, disorders or diseases can result in damage to the important weight-bearing ankle joint.
Why is an Ankle Fusion required?
An ankle fusion surgery is required when the component bones (tibia and talus) get damaged and cause pain if moved. This damage can be due to a medical condition, disease or due to trauma. A damaged ankle joint becomes swollen and painful due to severe damage to it.
An ankle fusion surgery may be the best-suited treatment method to fix the damage as well as to relieve the painful symptoms.
In case all other pain alleviating methods such as painkillers, steroid injections to the ankle joint, physical activity changes, walking aids and specialized braces are not successful in relieving pain an ankle fusion surgery is considered ideal for you.
What are the aims of an Ankle Fusion?
An ankle fusion surgery, also known as ‘ankle arthrodesis’, is aimed at relieving pain or improve function in the damaged ankle. Pain is caused in the damaged ankle when the bones of the joint move. This surgery helps to restrict the free movement of the ankle joint and this alleviates the pain associated with it.
What is an Ankle Fusion surgery?
An ankle fusion surgery is a major form of surgery and requires putting the patient under general anesthesia for the duration of the surgery. The surgeon will make incisions around the ankle joint to gain clear access to it. The cartilages and other tissues within the ankle are removed to avoid contact between the bone surfaces. The ankle is stabilized using a metal frame allowing the bones to later join and heal together.
Most of the ankle arthrodesis procedures are performed using minimally invasive method known as an ‘arthroscopy’. This method of surgery uses requires smaller incisions (keyhole incisions) and a fewer number of incisions as compared to the larger and numerous incisions required in a traditional open type of surgery. The arthroscope is a thin and flexible tube with a light-source and a video camera attached to it which helps the surgeon to see the ankle joint without having to peel off the ankle skin. This arthroscope is also equipped with miniaturized surgical devices that are useful in performing the fusion procedure.
The surgeon may make an incision on the outside part of the ankle joint or in the front part of the ankle. Certain cases may require a bone graft to facilitate the fusion (welding) of the bones together. This bone graft may be sourced from the pelvic bone, the heel bone or from below the knee.
After accessing the ankle joint the surgeon will use the surgical tools to scrape off any remaining cartilage from the bones in the joint and prepare the surface of the joint for fusion. Medical-grade metal screws (and metal plates) are used to immobilize the ankle in the desired position that causes the least amount of pain.
An x-ray is used to determine the alignment and position of the ankle bones for making it as perfect as possible.
What are the potential risks and complications associated with Ankle Fusion surgery?
As is seen in any type of major surgery the surgical part of the ankle fusion surgery carries rare chances of risks such as anesthetic reaction, bleeding, infection, nerve damage, blood vessel damage and blood clots.
Non-union is a specific risk associated with ankle fusion surgery. This is the failure of the ankle bones to join together. A corrective surgery may be required in such rare cases with the use of new metal parts.
Ankle fusion surgery is successful in relieving the severe pain associated with serious ankle joint damage due to an injury or a medical disorder or disease. Ankle fusion surgery is now becoming more common than an ankle replacement surgery as it is more stable and requires far less restriction of everyday activities comparatively.
An ankle fusion surgery is ideally recommended for younger people with a more active lifestyle.