Foot Fusion and Ankle Fusion: Strength in Numbers

Some popsicles are like getting two for one—you know, the double kind with two sticks so you can break it down the middle and share. Once they’re apart though, there is no way of putting them back together. You might think that is true of bones as well, however, a procedure like a foot fusion or ankle fusion can do just that. They can join two or more bones together to form one. This is especially beneficial to those with damage to their joints due to arthritis, and also those with ankle instability, infections, certain deformities, neuromuscular disorders, and conditions such as Charcot foot.

Joining Forces

Everyone knows that there is strength in numbers. That is the principle behind fusion. If bones or cartilage are damaged, they lose their strength. Removing damaged areas and fusing together the remaining, healthy bones will help restore strength and stability to the joint area. This is most commonly done by removing the cartilage that reveals the underlying bone on both sides of the joint, aligning the bones in correct position, then compressing those bones together and holding them in place with screws. Sometimes a bone graft may be used to facilitate the bones combining.

Rearfoot fusion entails permanently joining together the three major joints in the foot: the subtalar, calcaneal-cuboid, and talo-navicular. Ankle fusion involves the talar dome, distal tibial plafond, and the distal fibula bones. A midfoot fusion involves the tarsal/metatarsal bones. A forefoot fusion fuses the metatarsal phalangeal bones. Although range-of-motion is decreased, this technique is very successful in relieving pain when all other conservative treatments have failed.

Conditions That Can Benefit

Degenerative joint damage from conditions such as post-traumatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from fusion surgery. Congenital ankle deformities and failed ankle implants are also candidates for the procedure, as are neuromuscular disorders like post-polio syndrome and paraplegia. Other conditions that can benefit include lateral ankle instability, avascular necrosis, and Charcot neuropathy.

In general, with foot and ankle conditions that have not responded to conservative treatments, that involve persistent pain, or have symptoms that worsen, fusion is a viable alternative.

What to Expect

Just as it takes time for bones to combine, so does recovery from fusion procedures. You’ll need to keep from bearing weight on your foot for at least 6 to 12 weeks. You will likely have a cast or brace and will need to use crutches. Elevating your foot and taking any anti-inflammatory medication we prescribe will help to keep pain and swelling to a minimum. It is essential that you follow instructions to ensure correct healing and avoid recurrence of the problem. You can expect that full recovery may take as much as a year.

If you suffer from a debilitating condition involving your foot and/or ankle, and all other treatments have not helped to relieve your pain, a foot fusion or ankle fusion procedure could be the solution. Learn more by visiting us at Podiatry Associates, P.C., conveniently located in Castle Pines, Cherry Creek, and Parker, CO. You can make an appointment online, or by calling Dr. Cynthia Oberholtzer-Classen and the team at (303) 805-5156. We’ll assess your condition and help you decide if fusion is right for you. Our goal is to help you live a full and active life, and that starts with healthy feet. Call today!