Surgeons working
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What Happens in the OR

You'll either get general anesthesia, which puts you to sleep, or a nerve block, which lets you stay awake during surgery. Both keep you pain-free.

Your surgeon will make a cut in the front and sides of your ankle and remove the damaged bone and cartilage. He then smooths the surfaces of the bones and replaces your joint parts with some made from plastic and metal. The operation takes about 2 and a half hours.

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Patient IV
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After Surgery

Your leg will be numb for up to 18 hours during and after surgery. After that, you might feel some pain, but you'll get relief from medicine that you take by mouth and through an IV.

A dressing will cover the incision. You'll wear a splint that's hard in the back and soft in the front. It gives your ankle room to swell and protects you from injury.

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Man on crutches
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Days 1-2: Recovery Begins

Your medical team will ask you to get up and start moving as soon as you can. You'll need to use crutches or a walker, because you have to keep your weight off your new ankle for the next 4-6 weeks or so.

You might still need some pain-relief medicine to stay comfortable.

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Doctor smiling
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Days 2-3: Ready to Go Home

You'll probably stay in the hospital for 2 to 3 days. You can leave once your pain is under control and you can get around safely with crutches or a walker.

Either you'll go home or get sent to a rehab center, where you'll learn how to get back to your normal activities.

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Medicine bottle
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Week 1: First Days at Home

Take the medicine your doctor prescribed to relieve pain. If it's mild, you can use an over-the-counter drug such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

When lying down, put pillows under your leg to keep it raised above your heart, which cuts swelling and helps the wound heal.

Call your doctor if your pain is severe or you have chills, a fever above 101 F, or bad-smelling green or yellow liquid draining from the wound. Also report any new swelling or any numbness right away.

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Woman showering
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Personal Hygiene

Keep the bandage on your wound clean and dry. If it gets wet, that can raise the chances of an infection.

Your doctor can tell you when it's OK to start taking showers. You might need to cover the bandage with a plastic bag to keep it dry. Sit on a bench or chair while you shower to keep safe.

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Holding flowers
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Weeks 2-3: Take It Easy

Take time off from work and get someone to help with meals and housework so you can rest and recover. You won't be able to drive until you can press down on the pedal without feeling pain.

You might be able to start doing gentle exercises to improve your range of motion, as long as you don't put any weight on the ankle. You'll see your doctor about 2 weeks after surgery to remove the stitches.

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Senior therapy
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Weeks 4-6: Resume Your Activities

You might be able to go back to work. But if your job is physically demanding, you'll have to wait longer.

Your doctor will recommend physical therapy to strengthen your ankle and increase your range of motion.

You'll get an X-ray about 6 weeks after surgery. If your ankle is healing well, your doctor might tell you that you can stop using crutches. You'll switch from a splint to a boot that should allow you to start walking on the ankle.

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Foot therapy
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Month 3: The Boot Comes Off

At this point, your doctor will give you a special shoe with a brace to hold your ankle steady. 

As you get stronger, your physical therapist will give you more types of exercises to do. Ask your doctor how often you'll need to have follow-up visits.

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Couple hiking
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Year 1: Get Moving Again

It can take a full year for you to walk like you used to and get back to most of your activities. Eventually, you should be able to swim, hike, and bike. Avoid high-impact activities like running or contact sports, which can damage the new ankle.

Most of the newer replacements last 10 years or more.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/23/2017 Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 23, 2017

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society: "Total Ankle Arthroplasty."
Bonasia, Davide Edoardo. Iowa Orthopedic Journa, 2010.
Doctors Hospital: "Ankle Replacement."
MemorialCare Health System: "Ankle Replacement Surgery."
Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush: "Ankle Replacement Surgery."
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals, NHS: "Arthritis of the Ankle Joint."
Royal Berkshire NHS: "Total Ankle Replacement."
St. Luke's Hospital: "Ankle Replacement -- Discharge."
University of Michigan Health System: "Total Ankle Replacement (Arthroplasty)."
UW Medicine: "Total Ankle Replacement Surgery for Arthritis."
 

 

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 23, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.