Ankle fusion, which is the common term for ankle arthrodesis, is a procedure that helps to reduce pain caused by arthritis of the ankle. When you have arthritis, regardless of where it is in the body, it causes pain, inflammation, and swelling of the ankle joint.

This is due to the cartilage over the bone and joint wearing away. When moving or putting pressure on the ankle, the pain can worsen, though you may experience it at any time. The main goal in treating it with ankle fusion is to reduce the pain.

Who Needs It

While anyone with arthritis of the ankle can get ankle fusion, it is usually for people who have tried other conservative treatments first. If you are diagnosed with this type of arthritis, your doctor will typically recommend trying non-surgical treatments first.

Depending on the severity of your arthritis, these might work temporarily to relieve the pain, prolonging the time before needing ankle fusion surgery. For example, you might be advised to try the following first:

  • Taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers.
  • Limiting your activity.
  • Getting steroid injections in the affected joints.
  • Using canes and other mobility aids.
  • Wearing a brace on the ankle.
  • Getting custom-made orthotic shoes.

If you have severe arthritis, these types of treatments might not be effective. In that case, your doctor may decide you are a good candidate for ankle fusion.

How Does It Work

You are usually sedated during an ankle fusion procedure for your comfort and pain-free purposes. Once you are completely sedated or asleep, your Pensacola orthopedic surgeon begins the procedure by making a series of incisions around the ankle.

These small incisions are the entry point to insert instruments to access the ankle joint. This is called ankle arthrodesis, where camera and instruments are used for a less-invasive procedure. In some cases, a bone graft might be needed for the infusion, which would be done first by taking bone from the knee or heel.

If there is still cartilage around the joint, it is removed in order to access the joint and bone. Metal hardware is used to hold the bones and let them heal. The hardware also helps keep the ankle in the right position during the fusion procedure. The following steps of the procedure are as follows:

  • Placing any remaining hardware, such as holding the joints together with a type of nail.
  • Placing pins on the outer skin of the ankle to hold it in the right position.
  • Performing x-rays to ensure the fusion and alignment is working properly.
  • Closing the incisions with sutures.
  • Placing splints over the ankle.


After your ankle replacement procedure, you will need to stay off the ankle for some time. You might remain in the hospital for a few days before returning home. The ankle needs to be elevated and you must avoid weight bearing activities.

During the first stage of recovery, you might need crutches in order to stay off the new joint. You may also be instructed to complete physical therapy. If the X-rays show that the joint is healing properly and your surgeon advises you to, you will be able to get back to normal activities within a few weeks.