Some disorders of the ankle, particularly degenerative arthritis, cannot be repaired with traditional methods of physical therapy and pain medications. In those cases, arthrodesis may be used. This is commonly called ankle fusion. This surgical procedure fuses the bones of the ankle together to manage pain and restore joint function. It is still ideal for some patients, though joint replacement is now a second option.
Ankle fusion is performed either in a traditional open procedure, which takes more time to heal, or arthroscopically, which is less invasive and has a shorter recovery time. Using the arthroscopic method, the surgeon will insert a camera on a long tube through a small incision into the ankle joint.
Another incision or two is made to insert small surgical instruments that are used to clean out damaged cartilage and screw the bones together. As the bones heal, they fuse together naturally into one bone.
Patients will wear a cast for a couple of weeks while the ankle heals. No weight will be allowed on the foot for 8-12 weeks while the bones fuse together. After the procedure, the patient may be fitted with special shoe inserts to help them walk more normally and return to normal routines.
There is minimal risk with this procedure, including nerve injury, infection, or the rare occurrence when the bones don’t fuse. These risks are rare, and most patients find ankle fusion to be a successful procedure.