Located at the juncture of the shinbone (tibia) and upper foot, the ankle is susceptible to a range of injuries and ailments, including arthritis. Held in place by tough tissue bands, called ligaments, the ankle can be bent and straightened to enable successful movement and agility. If the joint becomes damaged, balance, walking, and other basic physical actions can be significantly affected.
In the case of traumatic injury, onset of ankle pain and functionality loss will be immediate in nature. However, if damage is the result of gradual wear-and-tear or progressive illness, the symptoms will often emerge more slowly and worsen over time. Common signs of ankle damage and deterioration are:
As a result, day-to-day activities, such as walking, driving, and climbing stairs, may become increasingly difficult and uncomfortable. In assessing your level of ankle damage, Dr. Weaver will take your account of progressive symptoms, as well as the rate of general degeneration.
To successfully diagnose and prescribe treatment for your ankle ailment, Dr. Weaver will execute a combined examination approach including:
The additional medical tests may include, but not be limited to: x-rays, bone scans, CT (computed tomographic) scans, and MRI (magnetic resonance image) tests. These tools will allow Dr. Weaver to view your internal bone, muscle, and joint components in order to identify any additional factors contributing to your ankle damage.
Whenever possible, Dr. Weaver will prescribe non-invasive treatment options for the correction of your ankle condition. Common methods for initial application include:
If these treatment approaches do not render the desired result, Dr. Weaver may suggest the use of surgical intervention for more comprehensive repair. Common forms of ankle surgery include: arthroscopic debridement, joint fusion, and joint replacement.
Commonly used in the care of arthritis patients, this arthroscopic approach allows Dr. Weaver to successfully examine and treat the ankle through minimally invasive efforts. After a series of small incisions are made, a flexible arthroscope will be inserted into the joint, projecting images for real-time assessment by your surgical team. If possible, corrective efforts will be implemented at the same time as the investigative procedure.
During arthroscopic debridement, the small incisions may also be used for the insertion of intricate surgical tools, including: forceps, knives, probes, and shavers. Dr. Weaver will use these items to smooth bone spurs, remove damaged joint tissue, and correct select inflammation. The minimally invasive nature of this procedure enables faster recovery times; however, Dr. Weaver will prescribe a recovery approach to ensure safe return to ankle-based activities and the avoidance of re-injury.
Also known as arthrodesis, fusion involves the use of pins, plates, and other connective hardware in the creation of a continuous bone structure. With the joint held immobile by these components, the bone sections should successfully rejoin, or ‘fuse.’ If bone loss was associated with your specific ankle injury, Dr. Weaver may also recommend the use of a graft to encourage this growth and replacement of missing bone.
Due to its invasive nature, joint fusion surgeries occasionally require the supplemental use of bracing and other support efforts, as well as follow-up operations. In addition, due to increased pressure on surrounding joints, some patients may develop arthritis within the ankle region. Dr. Weaver will work with you to determine the best long-term approach for recovery and joint maintenance, as based on unique injury and case severity.
In cases of severe or advanced ankle damage, the entire joint may be replaced with a prosthesis, or artificial implant. This surgical procedure can provide substantial pain relief, as well as improve ankle movement and overall mobility. Improvement to joint motion can help alleviate stress on surrounding bone structures, leading to long-term reduction in arthritis and progressive damage risks. Joint replacement is most often only recommended in cases of destroyed ankle components and an inability to execute day-to-day physical activities.
Following your ankle surgery, Dr. Weaver will likely prescribe a combination of drug-based and physical activities. While you will be required to keep your ankle elevated for one to two weeks post-operation, physical therapy will likely be ongoing for several months. While you will be able to resume many of your daily activities within three to four months, you may require the support of braces or other orthotic tools.
Although some symptoms of the ankle condition may be quickly reduced, you must attentively follow the recommended recovery plan for long-term success and care. It will be important to gradually build strength and increase range of motion, avoiding re-injury or ankle exhaustion. Throughout the recovery process, regular visits with Dr. Weaver or an appointed physician will be integral.
Dr. Jamie Weaver is a nationally recognized instructor of orthopaedic surgeons, specializing in minimally invasive joint treatment techniques. To schedule an appointment, contact either the Joint Replacement Institute's Naples office at 239-261-2663, or Bonita Springs office at 239-676-2663.