How Your New Ankle Will Work

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After you recover from surgery, your new ankle might work almost as well as your old one did before you had problems. You'll have a better range of motion and little or no pain.

Most people who have total ankle replacement surgery are happy with the results, says Jonathan Deland, MD. He's a foot and ankle surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

Here's what you can expect.

Pain Relief

Most people see a dramatic improvement and no longer need painkillers at all, says Shannon Rush, DPM, a foot and ankle surgeon.

You might still feel a slight achiness or soreness in your ankle, but it probably won't be severe. If you had an injury before surgery, though, you might have some lingering pain in your foot.

Range of Motion

This will likely improve. Exactly how much varies. Some people feel like they have their old ankle back. Others see an improvement, but not as much as before they developed problems.

Physical therapy can help strengthen your ankle and gradually improve your range of motion.

Coordination and Balance

You'll likely see an improvement, but it might take time and effort. These are skills you can work on, and rehabilitation can make a difference.

Your balance and coordination might be limited from an earlier ankle injury. They also depend on your level of fitness before the replacement. If you were physically active before your surgery, you'll probably see better results.

Walking

You can expect to walk normally again, with a natural gait. You'll find it easier to move across uneven surfaces. Recent research suggests you'll be able to walk up stairs, down stairs, and uphill better than you would if you had ankle fusion, a type of surgery that joins bones in your ankle together.

Exercise

After you recover, you can expect to be active again. Exercise is good for you and helps strengthen your legs.

Most types of activities are fine, with a few exceptions. Jumping and running are off-limits. So are high-impact sports. Avoid anything that involves stopping and turning, which makes twisting your ankle a risk. That includes racquetball, tennis, and basketball.

You'll be able to play golf and go fishing. Walking and casual hiking are safe and healthy choices. You'll be able to use gym equipment like an elliptical trainer or stationary bike. You might even be able to ski again, but ask your doctor first.

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Shoes

About 8-10 weeks after surgery, you can go back to wearing regular shoes. Rush says you can wear whatever type you like, even high heels or sandals.

"But be reasonable," he says. A 5-inch heel, for instance, is probably not a good idea.

Improve Your Results

You'll get better long-term improvements if you follow these tips:

Start early. "Physical therapy and working on motion early on is very key," Deland says. The more you work on improving your range your motion in the first 4-10 weeks, the better.

Don't overdo it. "People start feeling so good after 10-12 weeks that they tend to do too much," Deland says. Being active is good, but exercising too much or trying sports that you haven't done in a while could be harmful.

Go for check-ups. Rush sees his patients every 12-18 months to make sure things are on track. Your doctor might take X-rays or scans to see if anything has loosened. If necessary, small adjustments can be made before it becomes a larger problem.

Stay at a healthy weight . The more weight you carry, the more stress you put on your new ankle. Try not to gain weight. Dropping extra pounds might also help. "Even modest reductions in weight can have a tremendous impact on your joints," Rush says.

Time for Another Replacement?

Your ankle replacement will probably last for 8-10 years. Look for these signs that you might need another one or an adjustment:

  • New pain
  • Soreness
  • Swelling

If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on March 15, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Jonathan Deland, MD, foot and ankle surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery.

Shannon Rush, DPM, FACFAS, foot and ankle surgeon, American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

Jastifer, J. Foot & Ankle International, January 2015.

American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons News Release: "Ankle Replacement Transforms Hopeless Situations into Active Lives."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Total Joint Replacement."

Washington University Orthopedics: "Frequently Asked Questions about Total Ankle Replacements."

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