What is ankle arthrodesis?

Ankle Arthrodesis or Ankle Fusion

The goal of ankle arthrodesis (also known as ankle fusion) is to relieve pain and maintain or improve function for patients with ankle arthritis. Ankle arthritis is degeneration of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones that form the ankle joint. These bones are the tibia, the fibula, and the talus. Pain typically is made worse with movement of the arthritic ankle. In ankle arthrodesis the ankle bones are fused into one bone. This eliminates the joint motion and reduces pain coming from the arthritic joint.

Diagnosis

Patients may be candidates for ankle arthrodesis if they have severe ankle arthritis and non-surgical treatments have failed. Many patients may find relief from the pain associated with ankle arthritis using:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen)
  • Injections of steroids into the ankle joint
  • Modification or limitations of activity
  • Walking aids (such as canes)
  • Specialty braces that stabilize the ankle and restrict its movement
  • Cushioned and specially contoured shoes

These treatments do not reverse ankle arthritis. In many patients they may temporarily or permanently provide relief from pain. If these measures fail to provide adequate pain relief or maintain function, a patient may be a candidate for ankle fusion. You should discuss your options with your foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon.

Patients should avoid ankle arthrodesis if they have:

  • Insufficient quantity or quality of bone for fusion
  • Poor blood supply to the ankle
  • Severely impaired nerve function
  • Medical conditions that increase the risk of anesthetic
  • Severe deformity of the limb

Treatment

Patients are asleep or sedated in the operating room during the procedure. Incisions are made in and around the ankle to access the joint. Any remaining cartilage within the ankle joint is removed so there is contact between the bony surfaces. The ankle is held in the most functional position with metal hardware. This allows the bones to heal together.

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About Mark Reed

Mark Reed, MD Dr. Mark Reed is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon providing specialty care of all foot and ankle disorders. He treats both adolescents and adults with a special focus on sports-related injuries, including ankle instability, cartilage lesions, and Achilles tendon injuries.