Ankle Arthritis: Rethinking Surgical Options for Young Patients

Doctor looking at image of ankle on tablet Joint replacement surgeries have been relatively common for decades, with the vast majority of patients being senior citizens. In those over the age of 55, it is natural for the cartilage in the joints to wear down, leading to joint damage, which requires the joint to be replaced. Arthritis of the joints is also much more common in senior citizens than it is in younger individuals. But occasionally, younger patients (including some in their 20s and 30s) develop arthritis. Keep reading to find out what surgical options are available for these individuals who suffer from ankle arthritis.


Why Not Replacement?

Your first question may be, “Why can’t these younger patients have a full joint replacement too?” This is because, as with anything else in life, artificial joints have a limited lifespan. They’re simply not designed to last for the rest of the individual’s life, when the joint is replaced in their 20s or 30s. This means that, for a patient this young, they would eventually need to have their joint replacement replaced as well. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation, and in order to avoid having to repeat the surgery later in life, doctors will usually look for other solutions for young patients.


Injection Therapy

There are a few different kinds of injection therapy that are available for those suffering from ankle arthritis. One option to consider is viscosupplementation, which is a therapy that injects hyaluronic acid around the joint; this fluid mimics those naturally found in joints, providing additional padding to absorb impacts and reduce long-term damage. Viscosupplementation may be able to provide young arthritis patients with the added joint support they need to continue living an active lifestyle without worrying about joint replacement for now.


Doctor examining x-rays and patient ankle Cartilage Replacement

Of course, there are other surgical options available that don’t fully replace the ankle joint. One of these options is cartilage replacement; this would require the expertise of not only an ankle and foot specialist, but a knee specialist as well. Cartilage is taken from the knee, morselized, and added to a paste. The paste is spread over the arthritic regions of the ankle. This may be covered with a glue to help the paste adhere to the joint.


This surgery does require the patient to keep weight off the ankle for at least six weeks, so that the paste has time to adhere. While this may seem like an extremely long time to go without bearing weight on one leg, it is a largely successful surgery for many younger arthritis patients.


Joint Distraction

One final option is joint distraction. With this procedure, the ankle joint is distracted with an external fixation system, which remains in place for six to ten weeks. With this fixation system, the bones of the joint no longer press against one another, allowing the cartilage to heal itself more naturally, without the presence of constant friction and pressure. This method may be combined with cartilage replacement in order to improve results.


One benefit of this method is that it allows the patient to bear weight on the leg, even if combined with other surgical methods, like cartilage replacement. This makes it an excellent option for patients who can’t reasonably be non-weight-bearing for six weeks.


If you suffer from ankle arthritis and are exploring treatment options, contact us at 936-271-3668 to speak to a foot and ankle specialist in The Woodlands, TX.