image_NapxvGS.jpeg (image_znh2iKj.webp)As we age, our bones can begin to deteriorate. This is especially true for the weight-bearing joints, like those in our ankles. When the bones in our ankles break down, it can be very painful and make it difficult to walk or even stand. In severe cases, an ankle replacement may be necessary.

Ankle replacements can be very effective in relieving pain and restoring function to the ankle. In fact, Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists performs more ankle replacement surgeries than any other practice in McHenry County, Illinois. In this month's blog, we'll be talking about ankle replacements with Dr. Patrick McEneaney, the founder and CEO of Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, and answering your questions about the procedure!

Am I A Good Candidate For Ankle Replacement?

'Typically, people who are good candidates for ankle replacements are people who have arthritis to their ankle,' says Dr. McEneaney. He explains that this can happen to younger people due to an old ankle injury, like a fracture or broken ankle. These ankle injuries can damage the joint's cartilage, which further deteriorates and leads to pain and inflammation as the bones begin to rub against each other.

Dr. McEneaney explains, 'Some of these people had chronic ankle sprains when they were younger. Some of them as early as high school, which never healed properly.' This can lead to chronic ankle instability, chronic lateral ankle pain, re-injury, and uneven wearing of the ankle joint, which can also lead to arthritis.

If you're dealing with pain, tenderness, swelling, or stiffness in your ankles, you might be a good candidate for ankle replacement surgery. He describes the best candidates as, 'Healthy, more active people who don't have nerve conditions in their feet or ankles.'

Either way, it's always important to seek out board-certified foot and ankle surgeons, like those at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

How is Ankle Replacement Different From Ankle Fusion?

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, ankle fusion and total ankle replacement are both effective for treating ankle pain caused by arthritis. However, these surgeries are not interchangeable.

The Arthritis Foundation describes ankle fusions as a procedure where 'surgeons remove the surfaces of the bones affected by arthritis and join them with plates and screws until they grow together, or fuse.' Ankle replacements, however, are 'more complicated than fusion and require a high degree of surgical skill.'

'It's a process similar to a hip or knee replacement,' Dr. McEneaney says. In short, the damaged bone and cartilage are replaced with an artificial joint, allowing for more stability and less pain. In fact, ankle replacement is known to relieve pain and preserve more mobility than fusion.

That extra mobility is particularly important. 'When people have an ankle fusion, they can put extra pressure on the knee and other joints in the foot, which can cause them to slowly wear down over time,' Dr. McEneaney explains. However, with an ankle replacement, 'you don't get that kind of wear on the other joints.'

In other words, an ankle replacement can help you avoid long-term damage that might be caused by an ankle fusion.

Will My Recovery Be Painful?

A common misconception about ankle replacement is that you'll be stuck in the hospital for a long time and in severe pain afterward. However, ankle replacements are often done as outpatient procedures. That means you can go home the same day as your surgery!

Of course, you might be wondering how that's possible if it's such a complex surgery. The answer lies in the fact that advances in medical technology have led to smaller incisions and less tissue damage. This results in a quicker, easier, and less painful recovery.

Dr. McEneaney says that once he sends his patients home, 'we keep them off their foot for about two weeks or so, [and after that,] they're starting physical therapy and they're getting the ankle moving.'

On top of this, the typical implants are 'press-fit' implants, meaning that they're designed to fit snugly into the bones without the need for screws or other fasteners. However, with cutting-edge technology and special CT scans, we're working to create implants that fit each patient 'like a glove.'

In other words, these aren't your grandfather's ankle replacements! 'We're at a point right now where we're getting very reproducible outcomes from total ankle replacements,' Dr. McEneaney explains, 'and we're so far ahead of where we were in the '80s and '90s.'

Why Should I Visit Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists?

If you're dealing with foot and ankle pain, it's time to seek treatment. At Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, our podiatric surgeons do even more than ankle replacements. We also treat common conditions like:

  • Plantar fasciitis: inflammation of the plantar fascia, the bank of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes.
  • Morton's neuroma: a growth of nerves that typically develops between the third and fourth toes
  • Bunions: a deformity of the big toe, characterized by a lumpy bump on the side of the foot
  • Achilles tendonitis: inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the large tendon that runs down the back of the leg and connects the calf muscle to the heel bone
  • And more!

Plus, we take care to give our patients the attention they deserve. 'We don't have a factory approach,' Dr. McEneaney says. 'Some offices that are really, really bust have patients double-booked on top of each other, and what ends up happening is that those patients get in and see a physician's assistant who does the workup. Then, the doctor pokes in for two seconds and then they're out the door.'

At Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, our patients get quality time with their doctors. 'You can sit down, discuss your condition, and really talk here,' McEneaney says. We'll take the time to explain what your condition is, why it may have happened, and what non-surgical and surgical options are available. Then, we'll work with you to pick the option you feel most comfortable with.

If you're ready to take the next step, use our online tool to schedule an appointment with us today. We can't wait to help you get back on your feet!