Ankle replacement surgery is a major procedure that requires significant recovery time and rehabilitation. Proper preparation, careful adherence to instructions, and following a healthy lifestyle can make a speedy recovery achievable.

Ankle replacement, or ankle arthroplasty, is a surgical procedure that involves replacing the damaged ankle joint with an artificial implant.

It is a treatment option for severe ankle pain, injury, or arthritis. It can reduce pain and improve strength, mobility, and range of motion. It also carries a serious risk of complication.

This article will explain the recovery process for ankle replacement surgery, including strategies for expediting healing, preparing the home environment, and the timeline for recovery.

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Full recovery from ankle replacement surgery can take up to a year. The new joint will often be painful due to inactivity and muscle weakness. The body requires time to get used to the new joint and heal the bone and surrounding tissues.

However, following treatment plans, physical therapy, and other courses of action can hasten recovery.

Follow professional instruction

There is no singular recovery process that will benefit all ankle replacement cases. Following the procedure, a person should work with their doctor to create a tailored recovery plan.

They may specify when to put weight on the ankle, begin physical therapy, and return to regular activities.

Following professional instruction is vital to a good recovery.

Try physical therapy

The healthcare professional will prescribe appropriate exercises to enhance joint mobility and strength. Practicing and becoming familiar with these exercises before surgery can help improve and accelerate recovery.

Physical therapy sessions can also help recovery. According to 2020 research, an increase in the number of visits to physical therapy was associated with improved physical function.

Learn more about exercises for ankle and foot strength.

At-home tips for ankle replacement recovery

There are several other things a person can do at home to support ankle replacement recovery.

  • Elevate the foot: Keeping the foot elevated can help reduce swelling and improve blood flow post-operation.
  • Manage pain and swelling: Taking pain medications as directed, ice therapy, and compression stockings may help to manage swelling.
  • Keep the incision site clean and dry: Proper wound care prevents infection and promotes healing. People should follow instructions for cleaning and dressing the surgical site, and keep the area dry.
  • Follow a healthful diet: Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients can support the healing process. Incorporate whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
  • Get plenty of rest: Getting enough sleep, and avoiding activities that may cause fatigue or stress can benefit healing.
  • Try to quit smoking: Smoking can impede healing, so it is advisable to quit during recovery.

Taking the time to prepare the home environment can help support a successful recovery.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Arrange for help: Asking friends, family, or professionals for assistance with household chores and transportation to medical appointments can help to reduce unnecessary activity.
  • Prepare food: Planning and preparing easy meals and snacks ahead of time can reduce the potential time it takes to make food, increasing rest.
  • Stock up on essentials: A nonslip bath mat, compression socks, heat pads, and massage guns can all help recovery.
  • Prepare clothing and footwear: It may help to buy comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and slip-on shoes. A bag and garments with pockets can also make carrying things easy.
  • Purchase and install assistive devices: Assistive items may include handrails, grab bars, and a shower bench. An elevated toilet seat may also be helpful.
  • Remove hazards: Removing tripping hazards, including rugs, clutter, and electrical cords can make getting around easier.
  • Set up the recovery area: A person should ensure the bed and resting areas are comfortable and easily accessible. It may also help to have essential items within reach.

The recovery time for ankle replacement surgery can vary depending on individual factors such as condition severity, surgery complexity, and overall health. A full recovery can take up to 1 year.

Mobility impact

During the healing process, assistive devices like crutches or a walker can help to support the ankle and reduce weight-bearing. It may be necessary to wear a plaster cast for 2 weeks and a removable boot for up to 6 weeks.

Following surgery, rest and limit physical activity for several weeks. Gradually increase activity levels to build strength and mobility.

Usually, it is possible to resume daily activities within 3 to 4 months. Strenuous activities and intense exercise may require more time.

Fast-track protocols

A 2023 study suggests that certain people may be eligible for a fast-track protocol to enhance recovery.

The plan involves removing the cast 1 day after surgery, allowing immediate weight bearing and mobilization, including walking.

Factors such as bone quality, body mass index, and surgical accessory procedures may determine eligibility.

Be aware of potential complications and risks following an ankle replacement surgery. Closely monitor symptoms and look out for any changes.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • sudden and significant increase in pain
  • fever
  • swelling
  • warmth
  • skin discoloration
  • difficulty walking
  • sudden loss of mobility
  • drainage at the incision site
  • leg fatigue or heaviness
  • numbness or tingling in the toes and foot

Ankle replacement surgery can significantly reduce pain, improve function, and enhance life quality in people with severe ankle pain, injury, or arthritis if conservative treatments are ineffective.

To ensure a successful, speedy recovery, follow the postoperative instructions, maintain optimal health, and participate in physical therapy. It may take up to a year to fully recover, but in most cases, a person can resume their usual activities within a few months.