Foot & Ankle Care

Ankle Implants

Ankle Joint Replacement: A Good Alternative to Ankle Fusion Surgery
If you or someone you love suffers from severe ankle joint pain, you may face a difficult choice: ankle fusion or ankle replacement surgery. Traditionally, doctors have turned to ankle fusion surgery for severely damaged ankle joints. However with the introduction of the first FDA approved ankle joint implant, the joint replacement procedure has positioned itself as a viable alternative to ankle fusion surgery.

In a healthy ankle, cartilage cushions the bones of the ankle joint. When arthritis or an injury interferes, the cartilage can be worn away. This allows bones to rub directly against other bones, resulting in extreme pain and discomfort. If medicines and non-surgical treatments fail to provide pain relief, two long-term treatment options are available: ankle fusion or ankle replacement surgery.  Both treatments offer benefits, however neither one is the correct choice for every patient.

Ankle Fusion
Ankle fusion is often a familiar term for ankle pain sufferers. The goal of ankle fusion surgery is pain relief, stability and strength. It has traditionally been used as a treatment option for severely damaged ankle joints. Fusion surgery joins the bones of the impaired ankle with screws.  The ankle is locked by metal screws into a fixed position. The ankle will be permanently stiff after surgery, and you may not be able to do all that you could do before.  

Ankle fusion is a procedure with a proven track record for reducing pain, at the same time sacrificing the patient’s ability to move the ankle. Long-term effects on other joints in the foot can lead to further fusion surgeries and additional limitations on the patient’s ability to walk normally.

Ankle Replacement Surgery
Fusion surgery is not the only option for relief of severe ankle joint pain. Ankle replacement, an alternative to fusion, is used in certain patients with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or ankle trauma caused by an injury. The diseased or damaged parts of the ankle joint are removed and replaced with an Agility Ankle implant.  The goal is to reduce pain while allowing movement within the ankle. Unlike ankle fusion, joint replacement closely matches the normal function of a healthy ankle as much as possible.

As with any joint replacement, an ankle implant is usually reserved for mature patients (late middle age and beyond). This is mainly due to the fact that many joint implants are expected to last about 10 years. A person’s activity level is also a consideration. Sports such as running or tennis that put a lot of stress on the ankle joint are not advisable with a total ankle implant.

The ankle replacement procedure seeks to reduce pain and closely mimic the function of a natural, healthy ankle, retaining the patient’s mobility as much as possible. Surgeons choose ankle joint replacement as an alternative to the more severe limitations and risks of osteoarthritis created by fusion surgery.

Individual results with any medical treatment can vary from the outcomes mentioned in this article. Only an orthopaedic or podiatric surgeon trained in ankle fusion or total ankle replacement can provide advice about whether total ankle replacement or ankle fusion surgeries are right for you. Please consult your physician about the advisability of any medical treatment that you are considering.