Before, after, and during ankle replacement surgery: what to expect

If you’ve been suffering from chronic ankle pain due to arthritis or injury, your physician may have recommended an ankle replacement. Ankle replacement surgery, also called a total ankle arthroplasty, is a treatment option for patients whose ankle pain hasn’t responded to therapy, medication, or other nonsurgical treatments. During ankle replacement surgery, a surgeon removes damaged bone and cartilage from the ankle joint and replaces them with prosthetics. Many patients experience immediate pain relief from the removal of damaged and inflamed tissue.

As you prepare for your ankle replacement, you’ll probably have some questions about what to expect after the surgery. Your ankle replacement recovery time will be split into different stages. As your recovery progresses, your physician will give you guidelines to help you ease back into your normal activities. Below, you’ll learn some simple steps to help make your ankle replacement recovery time as smooth and comfortable as possible.

How should I plan ahead for my ankle replacement surgery?

There are steps that you can take before your ankle replacement to set yourself up for post-surgery success. In the weeks leading up to your surgery, your physician will give you specific health, lifestyle, and medication guidelines to help you prepare. Your doctor will need to know your medical history, including current medications and recent surgeries.

During the week before your surgery, you should prepare your home for your ankle replacement recovery. Your movements will be restricted after the procedure, so make sure that you will have easy access to important areas of your house, such as your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. If your bedroom is upstairs, you should set up a resting area downstairs for you to use while your ankle is healing.

Ask your friends and family in advance for help during your ankle replacement recovery. After your surgery, you will need assistance getting around your house for the first couple of days. You will also need help with chores, such as cooking, walking your pets, and running errands.

What will happen on the day of my ankle replacement surgery?

During your ankle replacement surgery, you will either be under general anesthesia or a regional nerve block. Either way, you will not feel pain during the procedure. Your leg might be numb for up to 18 hours following your surgery. If your surgery is being performed as an inpatient procedure, you’ll be in the hospital for two to three days. If your surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure, you will leave the outpatient surgery center as soon as your pain is at a manageable level and you are able to safely walk around using crutches. Someone will need to be there to drive you home after you get discharged.

What can I expect in the weeks following my ankle replacement surgery?

After your ankle replacement, your incision will be covered with a surgical dressing and you will wear a splint for around two weeks. During this time, you should avoid putting any weight on your new ankle. Patients are typically given a splint that is soft in the front and hard in the back. This helps protect the ankle from injury while allowing room for swelling after surgery.

In the days following your ankle replacement surgery, elevation is key. Any time you are resting, use a few pillows to prop your ankle above your heart level. Keeping your ankle elevated will help keep surgical swelling down, which could help prevent atrophy in the muscles surrounding the joint.   

After two weeks, you will have a follow-up meeting with your doctor. Your physician will perform x-rays on your ankle to monitor the healing process. They will remove any stitches and replace the splint with a removable ankle boot. You will wear your boot and continue using crutches for about six weeks after your ankle replacement.

A few weeks after surgery, you’ll be able to start putting some weight on your ankle. Your doctor will recommend gentle ankle exercises designed to strengthen and increase the range of motion in your joint.

You will return to work about four weeks after your surgery, depending on the amount of physical activity that your job requires. You can start driving again once you are able to press down on the gas pedal without feeling any pain.

During your recovery, take note of any new symptoms or issues that arise. Don’t hesitate to call your physician with any questions or concerns, especially if you’re experiencing any signs of infection. This includes fever, numbness or tingling in your toes, and swelling that isn’t relieved by elevating your ankle.

How long will it take to get back to normal after my ankle replacement recovery?

You will spend the first six weeks of your ankle replacement surgery recovery time healing and learning how to move around with your new joint. After six weeks, you should be able to put your full weight on your ankle. You will probably be able to stop using crutches at this point, but you will still wear a removable boot.

Three months after your surgery, your boot will come off. Your doctor might give you a special shoe with reinforcements to support your ankle position. Your physical therapist will start introducing more challenging ankle exercises to help build the strength of your joint.

It may take up to a year for you to regain full strength and mobility in your ankle. After your ankle replacement recovery, you will be able to return to your normal activity levels, including swimming, biking, and hiking. However, it’s still a good idea to avoid high-impact activities such as contact sports and running, as these can put wear and tear on your new ankle joint.

Every person’s ankle replacement recovery time is different. Factors such as age, overall health, and prior surgeries can affect the length of your recovery. For the best chances of surgery success, maintain communication with your doctor and follow their recommendations. You will probably be anxious to test out your new joint after surgery, but the recovery process shouldn’t be rushed. Once you’re completely recovered, you will be able to fully enjoy the benefits of your new ankle.

How much should I pay for my ankle replacement surgery?

When your doctor recommends an ankle replacement surgery, it’s usually because you’ve tried other options without success. If your pain has gotten to the point where you need surgery, you shouldn’t let the high medical costs associated with ankle replacements keep you from experiencing the pain relief that you need. New Choice Health’s Orthopedic Surgery Assistance can help you find discounts and payment plan options for your ankle replacement surgery. Being uninsured or underinsured doesn’t have to mean paying full price for your medical procedures. Use New Choice Health’s Patient Assist program to finance your ankle replacement surgery today.

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(850) 898-1410
3 W Garden St. STE 700
Pensacola, FL 32502