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Tips on ankle fusion surgery

I’ve just received Arthritis Research UK’s information on foot and ankle surgery and would be interested to hear of readers’ reactions to these types of operation, especially fusion.
Peggy, Gloucestershire (Spring 2012)

I read on page 29 of your Spring Edition of Arthritis Today a letter from Peggy saying that she would be interested to hear readers’ reactions to ankle fusion. I started having arthritis pain in the left ankle at the age of 55. I live on a headland in Cornwall and like to walk my retriever dogs daily but soon found it extremely painful. I started to go to a gym twice a week and undertake particular exercises to keep the ankle mobile. It was successful for about 15 years, but gradually the range of movement in the ankle decreased and it became more painful. Eventually a consultant offered either total ankle replacement or fusion, but strongly recommended the latter.

The thought of a permanently fixed ankle did not come easily as I had visions of restricted walking. So I sought people who had undergone this surgery – one of whom had had both ankles fused – and having witnessed their complete mobility I had the operation in March 2011.

I practiced walking on crutches before the operation so that I was completely at home with them. As a result, the day after the operation I was able to demonstrate to the physiotherapist that I could manage perfectly well with only one leg being weight-bearing and was therefore only kept in hospital overnight. I was non weight-bearing for four weeks and weight-bearing in plaster for four weeks and then had a removable boot for a further four to six weeks. My surgeon said that it would take from three to six months to obtain full mobility but it can sometimes take up to 12 months.

I found that within six months I could walk anywhere and by nine months I was walking up to 10 miles. No physiotherapy was necessary at all and it has amazed people that my operation scars – two small holes – are now completely invisible. I had anticipated that my walking would be permanently unbalanced due to the inability to flex the ankle in a vertical line. The ability to flex it sideways was not affected.

I was amazed to discover that, aged 75, my walking is completely normal and now, 12 months after the operation, I rarely think about the ankle – except when trying to turn on the bath tap with my toe! The ankle fusion is a total success and I would recommend it to anyone.
David, Cornwall (Autumn 2012)

I was particularly interested in the recent item in The Hints Box about ankle fusion. My 50-year-old son, who works as an electrician, has had a lot of pain in his foot for the past six years. He had a wash out at the time but it didn’t make the slightest difference. He limps very badly and it is affecting his hip, and as he still has a long working life ahead of him, it is a worry. Over the years consultants have suggested fusion, but he can’t really afford to take time off for a long period, money or jobwise. I wondered if any if any other male readers have any experience of how long the necessary period of recovery was and when they could return to work?
Joyce, Essex (Winter 2013)

Reading the letter in Arthritis Today 159 from Joyce asking if any one had had ankle fusion, I had the operation four-and-a-half years ago after 33 years of pain, and undergoing all sorts of treatment, none of which worked. After surgery I spent two weeks non-weight-bearing, then when I had the cast taken off, I couldn’t believe that 90% of the pain had gone, and in a very short time I had no pain at all. I am still pain-free.
Ron, West Midlands

All hints and tips are provided by readers of our Arthritis Today magazine and aren’t necessarily the views of Arthritis Research UK.

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