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Arthrodesis of Foot and Ankle—Open Surgery

  • Definition

    Arthrodesis fuses the 2 bones that form a joint. There is no longer movement in the joint after the procedure. One or more related joints may be done at the same time.
    Arthrodesis of Foot and Ankle
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  • Reasons for Procedure

    Ankle and foot arthrodesis is done to relieve disabling ankle or foot pain, or deformity caused by poorly healed fractures, arthritis, damaged cartilage, infections, or developmental defects.
    The procedure results in pain relief in most patients.
  • Possible Complications

    Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have an arthrodesis, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
    • Failure of the joint to fuse
    • Poor alignment of the joint, causing pain and/or change in walking pattern
    • Need for repeat surgery
    • Infection
    • Bleeding
    • Nerve damage
    Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
    • Smoking
    • Drinking
    • Chronic disease such as diabetes or obesity
    • The use of certain medications
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure
    Several nonsurgical treatments will be tried to correct the problem before choosing surgery. These may include medications, injections, special shoes, or types of physical therapy. You will have a thorough evaluation to determine your overall health and any risk factors.
    Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
    Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the day before your surgery, unless told otherwise by your doctor.
    Arrange for help at home after returning from the hospital.
    Your doctor may choose:
    Description of the Procedure
    A long incision will be made to view the joint. The joint will be secured. There are many ways to secure the 2 bones together so that they no longer move in relation to one another. Long screws, screws and steel plates, long steel rods, or bone grafts have all been used.
    You will have a tight bandage strapped around your thigh to shut off circulation during surgery. This will not harm your leg.
    Immediately After Procedure
    Your lower leg will be in a rigid cast and be elevated after surgery. You will be offered pain medication.
    How Long Will It Take?
    About 2-3 hours
    How Much Will It Hurt?
    There will be no pain during the procedure. Afterwards, there will be some discomfort. Talk to your doctor about medication to help manage discomfort.
    Average Hospital Stay
    You may be able to go home in 2-4 days if you do not have any complications.
    Post-operative Care
    During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
    • Washing their hands
    • Wearing gloves or masks
    • Keeping your incisions covered
    There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection such as:
    • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
    • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
    • Not allowing others to touch your incisions
    It will take up to 4 months to heal and solidly fuse the joint(s). During that time, you will be in a cast.
    Some people may be able to wear ordinary shoes while others may need specially fitted footwear.
  • Call Your Doctor

    Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:
    • Bleeding or discharge from your incision(s). This may show up as staining of your cast
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Increasing or severe pain that is not relieved by your pain medication
    • Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe nausea and vomiting
    • Numbness, tingling, or discoloration in the foot
    In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

    University of Washington School of Medicine


    Canadian Orthopaedic Association

    Department of Orthopaedics—The University of British Columbia


    Arthritis of the foot and ankle: arthrodesis. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: Updated March 2015. Accessed February 11, 2016.

    Daniels TR. Ankle arthrodesis. Canadian Orthopaedic Association website. Available at: Accessed February 11, 2016.

    Revision Information

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