HealthWatch: Easing Ankle Pain

WCBS-TV—April 13, 2010

Millions of people have had hips and knees replaced; the surgery has become so common that people take it for granted they’ll be able to walk pain-free after surgery. But for years, another of the body’s major leg joints has been more difficult to fix.

The ankle has always been a tough joint to replace. But there is now hope for patients suffering with painful, arthritic ankles.

In the past, patients only had one option to stop the pain: ankle fusion, where doctors use screws to lock the ankle into one position.

For decades, doctors have tried to develop a replacement ankle joint like the ones in the hip or the knee. Those earlier attempts invariably failed party because the ankle is a more complex joint and supports more weight.

But Dr. Martin O’Malley an orthopedic 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 materials and surgical precision. X-rays are used to align the new ankle with the leg.

“We’re able to put the implant exactly where we want to, which is a huge breakthrough,” O’Malley said.

Once the implant is aligned, he screws a series of disks into the leg for support. The stem is attached to the titanium replacement ankle, which glides easily. Dr O’Malley says patients should avoid heavy running.

“But doubles tennis, anything at the gym, swimming… biking is fine, skiing is fine,” he said.

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