Ankle replacement is not a minor procedure, but if you are someone who suffers from severe ankle arthritis or who suffered a complex fracture of the ankle, it may be your best path forward. The procedure itself involves removing your ankle joint and replacing it with one made from medical-grade materials including silicone and titanium. Often, you'll stay in the hospital for a couple of days after the surgery so the doctors can make sure you don't develop any serious side effects like blood clots. But then you'll be sent home.
Here's what you can expect from that point forward.
1. Pain and Pain Management
Pain is the thing most people are worried about most after ankle replacement surgery. Yes, you will have some pain, but there are good ways of managing it. Your doctor will likely prescribe opiate pain relievers for you to take for the first few days, and after that, you can turn to over-the-counter medication options for relief. Icing the ankle will also help tremendously. It will alleviate the swelling, which in turn will alleviate much of your pain. You really can't over-ice during recovery.
2. Wound Care
Caring for the incision itself is pretty simple. You'll be sent home with new gauze and bandages, and you can remove and replace the gauze and bandages as directed, which is typically every few days. Just check for any signs of infection, such as redness or pus, each time you change the bandage. Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect an infection.
3. Physical Therapy
You will need to recover and heal for about a month before you start attending physical therapy sessions. But once you start attending, these appointments will be key to your recovery. You'll be given exercises to perform at home in order to increase your flexibility and strengthen the ankle joint. Physical therapy will be painful at times, so it's important to push through the pain to continue improving.
4. Return to Activity
Expect to slowly return to activity over a period of 3–6 months. You will probably be told not to walk for about a week, and after that, you'll be told to walk only a small amount each day. Once you start physical therapy, you'll slowly start easing back towards your prior activity level. Running and sports will likely be off the table for several months, although you can slowly ease your way back into these activities as long as your doctor feels you are otherwise physically able.
Ankle replacement is a big deal, but recovery is not as difficult as you might assume. Take it slow and listen to your doctor; you can do this. Contact local medical services to learn more about total ankle replacement surgery.