What Is Reconstructive Ankle Surgery?

J.M. Willhite

Reconstructive ankle surgery is a medical procedure used to restore function and stability to the ankle joint in the wake of trauma or disease. Hospitalization is required for reconstructive ankle surgery and recovery can take up to six months. As with any medical procedure, reconstructive ankle surgery does carry some risk for complications, including infection.

Reconstructive ankle surgery is done to restore function and stability to the ankle joint.
Reconstructive ankle surgery is done to restore function and stability to the ankle joint.

Individuals with significantly impaired ankle function are considered prime candidates for reconstructive ankle surgery. Those who have sustained significant injury often are unable to properly move or otherwise use their ankle without pain and discomfort. Fractures, chronic joint inflammation and infection are the most common reasons for ankle reconstruction.

When a fracture occurs, the bone may split, splinter or completely break, necessitating surgery to restore both stability and form to the joint. Chronic inflammation, such as occurs with arthritis, can wear down the ankle joint impairing one’s ability to move or even stand on the affected ankle. Individuals with extensive infection of the ankle joint undergo reconstructive ankle surgery to remove the affected portion of bone to prevent the spread of infection.

Performed with the aid of anesthesia, ankle reconstruction involves the removal of the fractured or injured bone. Through an open incision, bones comprising the ankle joint are reshaped to accommodate the new, artificial joint. Fastened by either screws or a cement-like substance, the new joint is settled in position amidst the natural bones. A bone graft is also performed to further stabilize the artificial joint. Once all necessary adjustments are made, all soft tissues, including tendons, are repositioned over the joint and the wound is closed with stitches.

Prior to surgery, patients are generally advised about the risks posed by the use of anesthesia and the procedure itself. General anesthesia does carry a risk for allergic reaction. There is also a chance for infection and blood clots associated with reconstructive ankle surgery.

There is a chance that recovery from reconstructive ankle surgery can be hindered by complication. It is possible for infection, nerve damage or allergic reaction to hinder healing. Some individuals may experience impaired ankle function, including stiffness or weakness, following surgery. As may occur with any implantable prosthetic, there is some risk the device may come lose or shift out of position with time.

Specific, and sometimes individualized, pre- and postoperative instructions are given to the patient during the consultation process. Generally, all medications that may hinder surgery success are temporarily discontinued. Following surgery, individuals are outfitted with an immobilization device, such as a cast, to support the ankle as it heals. In some cases, a catheter may be positioned at the incision site to keep fluid from accumulating around the wound as it heals. Most people who undergo reconstructive ankle surgery may resume their normal activities without restriction within six months.

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