Is Ankle Pain Normal?
The ankle is a group of bones, cartilage, and ligaments essential for standing, walking, and running. Like any other joint, the possibility of soreness or joint pain exists after a long day in motion. Most people consider ankle or heel pain a part of life, expecting to feel better the next day. However, constant, chronic pain is not normal and must be addressed by a doctor. If the ankle pain becomes too severe, a surgeon may need to perform arthrodesis or subtalar fusion. Understanding the procedure can help future patients make the right decision and improve quality of life.
Understanding the subtalar joint
People who run or walk regularly can feel when there is pain or discomfort in the ankle. When the foot strikes the ground, joints and ligaments absorb and distribute those forces. One crucial joint is the subtalar joint, located between the talus and heel bone. This joint allows the ankle to tilt side-to-side, distributing weight on uneven surfaces. Subtalar joints are prone to arthritis, deformities, or instability due to injury. Overuse can also cause inflammation, especially if someone does not have a proper walking technique or gait.
When should you be concerned about ankle pain?
People with subtalar joint conditions will notice pain and swelling on the outside or back of the foot. The pain intensifies after walking long distances or on uneven surfaces. Over time, the joint becomes stiff, causing someone to favor the other foot. The pain is intermittent at first but can intensify if ignored or left untreated. When someone cannot walk or perform activities for long periods and needs to limit activities, an orthopedic surgeon must get involved.
Understanding subtalar fusion
If there is apparent damage to the subtalar joint, the surgeon will recommend non-surgical options first. These include pain medication, steroid injections, regenerative medicine, and physical therapy. However, subtalar fusion may be the best option if the patient has waited too long to seek help. The surgeon will remove the damaged cartilage and bone and use metal screws to hold the joint in place. Over time, the bone heals and fuses into a single joint. Sometimes, a bone graft is necessary to fill the space and encourage fusion. Subtalar fusion is becoming popular using minimally invasive surgery, meaning the patient can leave the same day.
Will surgery improve my ankle pain?
Subtalar fusion requires several weeks of recovery. The foot will be in a plaster cast for about 2 weeks, then a removable boot for 6-8 weeks. With the proper postoperative care, which includes pain management and physical therapy, the patient should return to activity within 12 weeks. The fusion will continue over several months. Statistics show that the procedure has a high fusion and success rate. Patients will notice reduced pain. However, there is less range of motion and stability on uneven surfaces. Consistent ankle pain and instability should not be ignored. The symptoms could mean that subtalar fusion surgery can help.
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