New Ankle Replacement Revolutionizes Treatment

CBS News—Mankato, Minn.—March 19, 2010

Millions of people have had hip and knees replaced. The surgery has become almost routine. Now, new technology is allowing doctors to successfully replace another of the body's major joints.

Two years ago, Andrew Keaveney could barely stand due to an injury that caused the cushioning cartilage in his ankle to wear down. Bone rubbed against bone — creating extreme arthritis.

In the past, patients like Keaveney had only one option to stop the pain: ankle fusion, which is a procedure where doctors use screws to hold the ankle in place. The surgery allows patients to walk pain free, but the lack of motion permits little else. For decades, doctors wanted to develop a replacement joint — like the ones in hips and knees — but early attempts failed because the ankle is more complex and supports more weight.

But today Martin O'Malley, M.D., a foot and ankle surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performs ankle replacement on a regular basis. O'Malley says the keys to success are new, longer lasting material and surgical precision. X-rays are used to perfectly align the new ankle with the leg.

"We're able to put the implant right where we want to — which is a huge breakthrough,” he said.

Once the ankle is aligned, O'Malley screws a series of disks into the leg for support. The stem is attached to the titanium replacement ankle which glides easily. O'Malley says patients should avoid heavy running, but can do just about anything else.

“Doubles tennis, any sort of thing at the gym, swimming, biking is fine, skiing is fine," said O’Malley.

Keaveney had the surgery a little over a year ago. "I'm 100 percent satisfied with what I got. I'm tickled pink," he said. The 73-year-old says the new ankle allows him to live a normal life.

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