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What is Arthroscopic Ankle Surgery?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Arthroscopic ankle surgery is a very common procedure that can correct many different ankle problems. The minimally-invasive operation involves making several small incisions around the ankle joint and manipulating cameras and small instruments to inspect and repair tissue. An injury that causes major tendon, ligament, bone, or cartilage damage is unlikely to heal on its own, and surgery may be the only real option to ensure the joint can get healthy again. Arthroscopic ankle surgery is considered very safe and effective when it is performed by experienced surgeons. Most patients are able to return to their normal activity levels in two to four months when they follow their rehabilitation programs.

A person who is scheduled for arthroscopic ankle surgery is usually told to avoid eating and drinking on the day of the procedure. At the surgical center, the patient's ankle is thoroughly shaved and sterilized. An anesthesiologist administers sedatives and a regional anesthetic block near the ankle. Once the patient is relaxed, the surgeon can mark at least two incision sites along the joint and prepare his or her equipment.

A fiber optic camera called an arthroscope is inserted through one of the ankle incisions. The camera relays a real-time video feed to a monitor beside the operating table. The surgeon inspects damage thoroughly with the arthroscope and uses it to guide the placement of other tools. Scalpels, forceps, clamps, and other equipment are manipulated through the other small incisions. The surgeon can reconnect or replace damaged ligaments and clip away sections of destroyed cartilage as necessary. Depending on the extent of the injury, the procedure can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to complete.

Following arthroscopic ankle surgery, a patient usually needs to stay at least one night in the hospital for monitoring. He or she may be fitted with a brace or cast to keep the joint immobilized during the recovery phase. A doctor can prescribe painkillers and schedule periodic checkups to make sure the ankle is healing correctly. After about six weeks, the patient can begin physical therapy to regain strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

The majority of people experience near full recoveries after arthroscopic ankle surgery. There are some risks involved, but every effort is made by surgical staff members to minimize the chances of complications. Excessive bleeding or numbness can occur if the surgeon accidentally damages blood vessels or nerves during surgery. Infection is also possible if the surgical wounds are not cared for properly. The benefits of a successful surgery far outweigh the small risks for most patients.

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