When ankle arthritis and pain makes life unbearable it may be time to consider ankle replacement surgery. While the path to ankle replacement differs for everyone, the odds for returning to everyday activities and being pain free following surgery are very good.
Gene’s Story Begins
Dr. Paul Spiegl’s patient, Gene D. of Adairsville, GA, talked about his journey to ankle replacement. “As a young man, I fell down a set of steps in school causing my left ankle to swell to the size of a football. Being young, I ignored it and went on. Through the years, I turned that ankle several times, each time staying off it for a few weeks until it improved. It wasn’t until my early 60’s when I began experiencing lingering ankle pain and arthritis. X-rays showed the cartilage around the ankle joint had deteriorated to the point that bone was grinding on bone.”
Research Your Options
For people with arthritis, pain and loss of mobility, non-surgical treatments are the first line of defense. These generally include anti-inflammatory medications, braces, steroid injections and sometimes regenerative medical procedures. Gene was no exception, following this regimen for three years. Unfortunately, his pain continued and the flexibility in his ankle joint diminished. Gene researched his options and learned about ankle replacement surgery, but his doctor told him he was not a candidate. It was at this point that he began searching for a doctor with experience in ankle replacement surgery.
Finding the Right Physician
Gene’s search led him to Dr. Paul Spiegl. As a board certified, fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon, Dr. Spiegl has performed hundreds of ankle surgeries including joint saving ankle reconstructions, ankle replacements and ankle fusions. His training and experience allow him to pick the most appropriate treatments, both non-surgical and surgical for each individual patient. Dr. Spiegl commented, “Most of my patients undergoing ankle replacement surgery have their pain resolved with motion and function greatly improved. Their natural gait returns and they are able to resume most of the activities they formerly loved doing.”
Ankle Reconstruction vs. Ankle Replacement vs. Ankle Fusion
Just like the wheels on a car, the ankle joint must be well aligned and well supported to prevent wearing out too soon. For some, an ankle reconstructive surgery can be done to rebuild and preserve the joint. For others, the joint is worn out and a replacement surgery is necessary to replace the damaged cartilage so the joint can move and bend without pain. In doing a total ankle replacement, the worn out ankle joint is replaced with an artificial joint that imitates the ankle’s natural action. The other option, ankle fusion, uses pins, screws, plates and bone grafts to permanently join the shinbone (tibia), to the bone that makes up the lower part of the ankle joint (talus). This procedure eliminates pain by stopping bone-on-bone grinding at the expense of ankle mobility. Dr. Spiegl explained, “My patients come to me with different goals, experiences and ankle anatomies. Some have advanced foot and ankle arthritis which make them better served by ankle fusion. Fortunately, technology has greatly improved total ankle replacements in the last decade so that more and more people can have their ankles replaced. The replacement maintains motion and balance which makes a world of difference driving a car, putting on pants and going up and down stairs.”
It Was “Well Worth It”
Gene explained, “Years ago when I met with Dr. Spiegl, he said he was having an 85% success rate with ankle replacement surgery. I thought those were pretty good odds, and I know that prosthetics and techniques have improved a lot since then. Following surgery, I wore a walking cast for three months and did some physical therapy. After my cast was removed my pain and range of motion improved to 90%, exceeding my expectations. So a few years later when my right ankle started acting up, I didn’t hesitate to have the right ankle replaced. A little older and a little longer rehab, but I’m getting around just fine. I enjoy fishing and I am completely mobile. All in all, I would suggest anyone having ankle issues of my severity to have the ankle replacement if it’s recommended. I hear positives and negatives, but for me, the surgery was well worth it.”
Dr. Paul Spiegl is a highly skilled and experienced orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon who has been practicing at the Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital campus for more than 36 years. If you’ve been told you are not a candidate for ankle reconstruction or ankle replacement surgery, you can arrange a second opinion consultation. Call us at 404-255-5595.