Ankle fusion is a surgical technique to reduce the pain associated with ankle arthritis by getting the bones around the ankle to grow together. The surgery requires the removal of the joint cartilage, proper positioning of the ankle and foot, and placement of screws, plates, rods, or pins to hold the position while the bone knits together into a solid painless structure.
The time to fusion in a cast varies between patients-from six weeks to six months, depending on many factors. Most patients are admitted to the hospital for a few days and then use crutches, walkers, or a wheelchair until x-rays show satisfactory healing. Approximately five to 10 percent of ankles fail to fuse, despite optimal treatment; these percentages are higher in smokers, diabetics, patients with nerve problems, and patients unable to limit walking or standing during the initial fusing period.
Once fused, the ankle usually is painless or far improved from the preoperative condition. In most patients, function is somewhat limited by ankle fusion-especially going up and down slopes or stairs, walking on uneven ground, and stooping to pick up objects. Over 10 to 20 years after an ankle fusion, other joints of the same foot tend to wear out and cause pain.