FAQs About Recovery From Total Ankle Replacement

Brian S. Winters, MD December 23rd, 2014

If you have been suffering from ongoing pain and limited mobility from an ankle injury or arthritis, your doctor may suggest total ankle replacement surgery as an option. This procedure can significantly improve your ankle pain and maintain your mobility for the long term. Additionally, the surgery can even improve the appearance of a deformed or degenerated joint. However, even with all of these benefits, you may have some questions about the procedure and your recovery from total ankle replacement. When you have your procedure done with Rothman Orthopaedic Institute specialists, your surgeon will take the time to answer any concerns you may have, but here are a few frequently asked questions to get you started!

How Long Does Recovery Take?

The time of recovery from total ankle replacement, as with any operation, will vary with each patient’s situation. Additionally, recovery time must be accounted in stages. You may be in the hospital for a few days. After that, you will need to spend a period of time resting and recovering at home. For most people, this involves a minimum of six weeks off from work, although many need more time before they begin driving again. During your recovery time, you will need to use a walker or crutches initially but will begin to progress your weight bearing at 6 weeks. Regular physical therapy appointments and exercises will aid in your recovery as well, so the more diligent you are about these stretches and exercises, the better recovery you will be likely to have.

What Complications Might I Experience?  What Should I Do?

Every operation carries some element of risk, and your doctor will discuss these with you before you go into surgery. However, there are some complications he or she will also mention that you need to look out for during your recovery from total ankle replacement. Potential risks include failure of the bone to heal to the ankle replacement, infection, or complications with the wound site.  

Warning signs would include a fever, severe swelling not alleviated by elevation, numbness in the toes, or foul-smelling drainage from the wound site.  If you suspect any of these have occurred, call your doctor immediately. However, most of these are preventable by following the proper recovery instructions that you are given upon release from the hospital.

How Do I Aid My Recovery From Total Ankle Replacement?

Diligently following your post operative instructions can make a big difference in your recovery from total ankle replacement. Not only will it help to decrease the duration of your recovery, but it can also help to improve the overall results. These directions will likely include the following:

  • Minimize Swelling. Although swelling will occur, you can work to manage it during the first two weeks after your surgery. Simply keep your foot raised above the level of your heart whenever you are resting or sleeping.  Pillows can help to prop your foot up like this, but be sure you are not placing any pressure on your heel.
  • Use Support. After your surgery, it is important to use the crutches, walker, or braces you are given until your doctor approves you to walk on your own. Otherwise, you might put weight on your ankle which could prevent proper healing.  
  • Do Your PT. After your total ankle replacement, you will likely be sent to physical therapy, sometimes called PT. When your physical therapist prescribes different exercises or stretches, it is important that you do these regularly to help your new joint learn how to move properly.  

What Can I Expect After Recovery?

After your recovery from total ankle replacement, you can enjoy the benefits of this procedure.  You will most likely notice a significant decrease in pain.  Additionally, you will probably experience better movement and coordination in your foot and leg.  As you enjoy your new mobility, be sure to follow any final instructions from your doctor and physical therapist.   

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