Ankle fusion

An ankle fusion is an orthopaedic operation used to treat disabling pain in the ankle joint which is not expected to improve with less invasive treatments. The most common cause of severe ankle pain requiring fusion is degenerative ankle arthritis, termed osteoarthritis. However, an ankle fusion is sometimes performed after significant ankle trauma which damages the ankle joint surfaces irreparably.

Unlike hip and knee osteoarthritis, ankle joint arthritis is relatively rare and normally develops after a previous ankle injury or as the result of other medical problems causing persistent inflammation in the ankle joint.

The aim of ankle fusion surgery is to reduce pain to allow improved sleep and a better ability to bear weight through the ankle and foot.

Prior to your operation, a full medical screen conducted by Circle Health’s specialist nurse and anaesthetists will be conducted to ensure you are safe to undergo the anaesthetic. The surgical team will review x-rays and other specialist scans as needed to plan the safest and most effective procedure for each individual’s anatomy and circumstance.

To perform the surgery one or two incisions are made over the front and outside of the ankle. Initially the ankle joint itself is accessed and using specialised instruments the damaged joint surfaces (cartilage) is removed. To fuse the ankle joint two or three large are secured across the tibia (lower leg bone) through the talus bone in the foot.

X-rays may be performed in the operating room to ensure the screws are secured in the correct manner.

Undergoing an ankle arthrodesis is a commonly performed procedure and our ultra-clean and safe environments within Circle Hospitals are designed to minimise any complications. However, complications can occur with any invasive surgery:

  • Drowsiness and nausea after the general anaesthetic
  • Blood clot in the legs known as a deep vein thrombosis
  • Blood clot in the lungs known as pulmonary embolism
  • Failure of the ankle to fuse properly
  • Infection to the wound or within the ankle joint (very rare)

You will require a short stay in hospital (normally between one and three days) after an ankle fusion operation. This is to ensure there are no immediate complications and ensure your pain is adequately controlled before your discharge home.

It will take you some time to learn to walk without any movement at the ankle. During this time, balance exercises and strengthening exercises to the muscles of the upper leg may help.

It may take several weeks to several months for the swelling to settle in the lower leg and ankle after a fusion operation but pain is normally well controlled as early as two weeks after the surgery at the review with the orthopaedic team.

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