Ankle replacement is surgery designed to relieve pain and restore mobility by replacing the damaged parts of the three bones that make up the ankle joint (the talus, the tibia, and the fibula) with artificial parts (prosthetics).

The main advantage of total ankle replacement is the return of pain-free movement in the ankle, which is vital for simple activities such as bending, walking, and climbing. However, it is important to know that full movement of the ankle joint may not be regained after the procedure. The movement that is present, is far more preferable in comparison to before the procedure.

The total ankle replacement is not designed to return people to high levels of activity, such as running and jumping sports. Depending on a person’s activity level, the artificial joints can wear or become loose, and may eventually need to be replaced.

Understanding the procedure

In ankle replacement surgery, an incision or cut is made in the front of the ankle and the damaged joint surfaces (articular cartilage) are removed and, if necessary, reshaped to correct a deformity. The surfaces are replaced with plastic and metal devices called prostheses. Supports, such as screws, may be used to stabilize and reinforce the prosthetic. Once all the different pieces of the artificial ankle joint are put in place, the ankle is tested to make sure everything fits properly.

Indications for the procedure

Most people who have ankle replacement surgery suffer from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or chronic pain caused by previous trauma such as a broken ankle. A good candidate for ankle replacement surgery is someone over the age of 50 who does not smoke, is not overweight, is in otherwise good health, and who does not participate in high-impact activities. It's better suited for people with little bone deformity and no history of infection or dead bone (avascular necrosis) in the ankle joint.