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Understanding the Basics Behind Joint Fusion Procedures
What is Joint Fusion Procedures?
The care teams at Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance will always try to exhaust non-surgical measures, like physical therapy or medicinal treatment, prior to any surgical recommendations.
However, when non-surgical treatments and conservative measures (like arthroscopy) aren’t producing desired results, more invasive measures like a joint fusion are necessary.
An ankle joint fusion is a procedure that fuses two (or more) bones within the ankle to restore functionality and alleviate symptoms of arthritis or injury. It involves your surgeon compressing the bones in your ankles together and attaching them with hardware, such as screws, plates, and surgical nails. Most often, surgeons perform this procedure on patients when they can no longer perform daily functions due to osteoarthritis accumulated in the ankle over time.
Our highly-trained orthopedic foot and ankle physicians at Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance have the expertise required to treat numerous issues, both surgically and non-surgically. When you visit a specialist at KCOA, we focus on creating a treatment plan based on your specific conditions, symptoms, and recovery goals.
Some common signs that joint fusion procedure might be needed include:
Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance Foot & Ankle Injuries Assessment
Assessing the Injury
Determining the proper ankle treatment process starts with an assessment from one of our experienced providers.
You can think of foot and ankle pain as a spectrum, with some instances being more severe than others. The KCOA orthopedic specialists always focus on each individual patient and their concerns before creating a treatment plan.
Therefore, during your initial appointment, we will often ask questions such as:
The answers to these questions help shape the next steps of the assessment process and guide our physical examination. After a proper assessment, we often begin with a physical examination to help determine the origin point of your pain. In some cases, advanced testing may be required for a full diagnosis.
Also called radiographs, an X-ray captures a picture of the ankle, heel, or lower leg. Orthopedic physicians may order an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a fracture (broken bone), osteoarthritis, or other bone-related conditions.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI captures images of muscles, bones, intervertebral discs, and tendons to help provide information other tests can’t detail. During an MRI, you will lie on a table that slides into a tube-shaped scanner. The machine creates a magnetic field around you, using pulsed radio waves to form the MRI images.
A computerized tomography (CT) scan can provide a series of X-ray images taken from the ankle, showing the bones, blood vessels, and soft tissue in your body. A CT scan ultimately provides more detailed information than a regular X-Ray.
Establishing a Care Plan
Based on the results of your interview, examination, and imaging studies, you can expect a custom care plan catered to you.
Many people believe it’s best to wait until pain becomes severe, leading them to “put off” or delay treatments like foot or ankle injuries. If you are in constant discomfort, have shooting or stabbing pains, have limited range of motion, or an inability to perform your daily activities, let our experts determine the treatments that might be right for you. New technologies allow patients with severe foot and ankle pain to fully recover and enjoy the benefits of a more functional, pain-free lifestyle.
Prior to surgery, you will typically receive at least 2 phone calls:
Dependent on your health history, your physician may require:
Pre-operative instructions will vary depending on your physician and the location of your surgery. Always check with your physician before surgery for specific instructions.
Most physicians require that patients not eat or drink after midnight prior to surgery. Additionally, you will need to designate a family member or friend to drive you home on the day you are released from the hospital. Surgical patients cannot drive themselves home.
Day of Surgery
If you schedule your surgery with a KCOA physician, you can expect the following on surgery day:
How it Works
When conservative and non-surgical options aren’t enough, your provider may recommend more invasive procedures, such as ankle joint fusion. For this procedure, we sedate patients with anesthesia and make incisions both in and around the ankle to reach the joint.
After placing the patient under anesthesia, the surgeon will make an incision on either the outside or front of the ankle. They may also use a less invasive technique where a camera and other tools are placed into the joint for enhanced precision. After reaching the joint, your surgeon will remove any damaged cartilage or bony tissue and prepare the joint for fusion.
Plates, screws and surgical nails may all be used during the procedure to hold the ankle in the proper position. Your surgeon will also use X-Rays during your surgery to ensure both proper alignment of the joint and the correct placement of hardware. This will ultimately depend on the unique needs of the patient
After aligning the joint and inserting the proper hardware, the surgeon will close the incision area with staples or sutures. Following the procedures, patients can expect to leave in splints or a boot to protect the area.
A patient’s recovery plan and timeline will vary based on various factors, including age, activity level, goals, and more. However, taking care of your body will be essential to ensure optimal results from your ankle joint fusion.
Immediately after your surgery, it’s important to keep your ankle elevated to reduce swelling. Your care team will also provide you with pain medication, as patients may experience soreness or discomfort immediately following surgery.
For most patients, you can expect to wear a splint on your ankle for at least a few weeks and to keep weight off your ankle for several weeks after. During this time, your care team will provide you with some sort of assisted device like a walker, wheelchair, crutches, or a knee scooter.
What to Expect
Ankle fusion is a significant procedure and you should expect soreness, swelling and bruising after surgery. This should subside within a few weeks. Within 10-14 days, your provider will remove any stitches or staples and may begin physical therapy around this time.
Depending on your individual recovery plan, patients will progress to more vigorous activity gradually and often with the guidance of a physical therapist and your orthopedic treatment team.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Foot & Ankle Injuries
With so many different parts working together in your feet and ankles, there are many potential causes of pain. And each of those causes has a unique set of symptoms.
Ankle injuries vary in their severity, ranging from smaller sprains and strains to a complete fracture. This can make walking and performing other normal daily tasks a very challenging feat. When a patient visits one of our KCOA offices, a skilled orthopedic specialist will ask you questions regarding your symptoms, what aggravates/alleviates your symptoms, and whether you have attempted prior therapies. Next comes a thorough physical exam. We will then review any images you bring with you and/or take new images. After determining the cause of your pain, we can discuss what treatment will best meet your needs (or if ankle fusion is the solution for you).
Causes of Foot & Ankle Pain
The body has different kinds of joints, and they all face different challenges. The foot and ankle combine for a complex region of the body, totaling 26 bones and 33 small joints that experience daily wear and tear. Soft tissue protects the joints and bones and is made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.
With all of these different bones in your feet and ankles, injuries and degenerative joint issues become relatively common. As the years go on, many people struggle with the effects of years of repeated movements, such as walking, running, or jumping. Arthritis stemming from previous injuries can also play a factor, causing ankle fusions to be the best option for treatment.
Generally, surgery is not the first choice for treatment at Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance. Only after we’ve explored and exhausted every potential non-invasive option will our physicians recommend a surgical procedure, such as an ankle arthroscopy.
Non-surgical treatments for ankles and feet include:
Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance is here to help.
Our care is personal. Our team is knowledgeable. And we’re more available than ever.
With access to board-certified specialists across Kansas City, we have the tools to meet almost every musculoskeletal condition.
Overland Park, Kansas10777 Nall Ave Suite 300 Overland Park, KS 66211
Leawood, Kansas3651 College Blvd. Leawood, KS 66211
Kansas City, MissouriSaint Luke's Medical Plaza #1 4320 Wornall Rd., Ste. 610 Kansas City, MO 64111
Belton, MissouriBelton Regional Campus 17067 S Outer Rd #301 Belton, MO 64012
Merriam, Kansas7450 W. Frontage Rd Merriam, KS 66203
Very knowledgeable! They answered all my questions thoroughly and accurately! Very professional!
Shannon is very caring and encouraging. She listens to my questions and explains what to expect going forward very thoroughly. Hopefully I don’t need my other shoulder replaced, but if I did I would come back to Shannon and Dr. Van Den Berghe.
Dr. Scott Ellsworth is one of the best
Dr. Scott Ellsworth is one of the best I have ever worked with. He is knowledgeable, efficient, caring, and knows his patients. He has a special bedside manner that makes any patient in any situation feel comfortable. All of the nurses and office staff are wonderful as well.
Dr. Mark Winston is the best.
Dr. Mark Winston is the best. He is a caring and attentive physician who made a very painful injury so much easier for me. The staff is very professional and do an awesome job.