Ankle Replacement Rapidly on the Rise

Mar 02, 2012, 11:00 ET from American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons

SAN ANTONIO, March 2, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Arthritic hips and knees are replaced all the time—but did you know that arthritic ankles can also be replaced? In fact, ankle replacements in the U.S. more than doubled last year, thanks in part to technological advances in ankle implants (prostheses). Surgeons are discussing this burgeoning procedure at the Annual Scientific Conference of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) in San Antonio, Texas.

Total ankle replacement surgery—also called ankle arthroplasty—involves replacing the damaged joint with an artificial joint. The procedure greatly improves function for people who cannot perform everyday activities without experiencing severe pain. Rheumatoid arthritis, osetoarthritis and previous injuries are the most common causes of this pain.

"In the past, the gold standard for treating these problematic patients was a fusion, or arthrodesis, in which the joint is removed and the bones are fused, thereby taking away the pain but also rendering the ankle immobile," says Robert Mendicino, DPM, FACFAS, a Fellow member of ACFAS and foot and ankle surgeon from North Carolina.

The treatment of choice is rapidly changing, says Dr. Mendicino.  "I believe we'll see fewer fusions and more ankle replacements in the future with more implants currently available and FDA approved."

Patients undergoing ankle replacement are typically in their 40s through 60s, although older individuals who are "physiologically young" may also be good candidates. Dr. Mendicino has performed the procedure on individuals ranging in age from 38 to 83 years of age with great success, despite the age differences.

The procedure takes about two hours. After making an incision on the front portion of the ankle, the surgeon removes the arthritic bone and cartilage from the tibia (leg portion of the ankle) and talus (foot portion of the ankle). The implant typically consists of two metal components and a plastic spacer that fits between those metal components. These are then inserted to form a new ankle joint that will now have a smoother motion.

What can you expect from a total ankle replacement? "Patients enjoy vastly improved function of their ankle, with pain-free weight bearing and range of motion," says Dr. Mendicino.

This contrasts sharply to the results achieved from fusion, which not only eliminates ankle movement but also increases the chances of developing arthritis in adjacent bones due to ankle immobility.  

Ankle implants generally last at least a decade. "We have many implants implanted in the '90s that are still functionally well. That will improve with today's technologically advanced prostheses and surgical techniques," Dr. Mendicino says.

Although total ankle replacement has been around for more than 30 years, only recently have industry breakthroughs expanded the choices of effective implants. In the late 1990s, only one ankle prosthesis was FDA approved in the U.S. Today, surgeons can select from four FDA-approved prostheses.

Surgeons note that not everyone is a candidate for an ankle replacement. For example, people with poor circulation (peripheral arterial disease), loss of sensation (neuropathy), or significant deformity related to a birth defect or previous traumatic event should not undergo this procedure.

For those who do meet the criteria for consideration, ankle replacement offers tremendous advantages over previous treatment for severe ankle pain related to arthritic changes. With the growing number of surgeons now being trained to perform this procedure, ankle replacement is likely to flourish as an effective treatment for painfully arthritic ankles. 

For more information on foot and ankle injuries and conditions, visit the ACFAS consumer website,

The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons is a professional society of over 6,500 foot and ankle surgeons. Founded in 1942, the College's mission is to promote research and provide continuing education for the foot and ankle surgical specialty, and to educate the general public on foot health and conditions of the foot and ankle through its consumer website,

SOURCE American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons