Ankle Arthroscopy: Preparation and Recovery

If you’re suffering from persistent pain in your ankle from common problems such as arthritis, torn ligaments, cartilage injuries, bone fragments, impingement, or a buildup of scar tissue, ankle arthroscopy is a minimally invasive outpatient surgical treatment that can treat and fix the problem and put you on the road to a quick recovery. Explore this guide to what you need to know about ankle arthroscopy preparation and treatment.

a woman with an ankle injury on a treadmill

What Is Ankle Arthroscopy?

Ankle arthroscopy is a minimally invasive technique utilized by an ankle specialist to diagnose and treat specific injuries or diseases to the ankle joint. It involves the use of an instrument called an arthroscope which is a narrow, tube-like device with a high resolution camera at the end to allow direct visualization of the ankle joint.

What Does Ankle Arthroscopy Treat?

Ankle arthroscopy can be used in ankle trauma for debridement of hematoma or bony fragments. It is often used to treat joint lining inflammation, osteochondral lesions, cartilage damage, loose bodies, and joint infection.

What Are the Benefits of Ankle Arthroscopy?

Ankle arthroscopy is minimally invasive — the necessary incisions are usually no more than half an inch each — which means that patient recovery times are generally faster and you can return to your normal routines more quickly. Ankle arthroscopy also allows doctors to directly visualize the joint, which makes it a more effective and reliable diagnostic tool than most advanced imaging technologies.

What Are the Risks of Ankle Arthroscopy?

Ankle arthroscopy generally has a very low risk of complications compared with other more invasive surgeries, and most patients are able to return home the same day as their procedure. The most common complication that can occur from ankle arthroscopy is nerve irritation given the proximity of the scope portals to the nerves in front of the ankle. However, this typically resolves spontaneously without any need for further treatment. Other risks, though not common, can include infection, tendon damage, joint and cartilage damage, or swelling.

Preparing for Ankle Arthroscopy Surgery

Starting to consider ankle arthroscopy but not sure how to prepare? Here are some general guidelines and bits of advice for preparing for arthroscopic treatment.

Who Is a Good Candidate for Ankle Arthroscopy?

Anyone with a history of an ankle injury and persistent pain can benefit from an ankle arthroscopy. Any type of injury to the ankle joint can potentially create inflammation in the joint. Recurrent injuries can lead to instability which can cause joint damage and arthritis. Ankle arthroscopy is a great diagnostic and therapeutic procedure for these issues.

What Tests Are Needed Before Ankle Arthroscopy Surgery?

Patients will typically get an X-ray of their ankle prior to ankle arthroscopy. This test can demonstrate possible bony debris or loose bodies within the ankle joint. Depending on clinical exam findings, an ankle specialist might also require an MRI. This imaging can demonstrate inflammation in the joint as well as possible cartilage damage which can help guide the approach of treatment.

How Should I Prepare for Ankle Arthroscopy Surgery?

It’s important to discuss the operative and postoperative plan with your ankle surgeon to ensure a better outcome. It’s not unusual to find unexpected damage within the joint that can lead to a more extensive arthroscopic procedure and potentially a longer recovery. Lifestyle plans should be modified depending on the operative plan established by you and your ankle surgeon.

How Long Does an Ankle Arthroscopy Surgery Take?

Ankle arthroscopy can range from 10-60 minutes depending on the severity of the disease being treated.  Most of the time it’s an outpatient procedure, and patients are able to return home from surgery the same day.

Recovering from Ankle Arthroscopy

A faster recovery time is one of the major benefits of ankle arthroscopy. The procedure is still surgery, though, so recovery times can vary. It’s also important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and attend follow-up check-ins to make sure you’re progressing properly.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Ankle Arthroscopy?

Recovery from ankle arthroscopy can take 2-8 weeks depending on the type of treatment. An ankle arthroscopic debridement can provide nearly immediate relief and the portal incisions can be healed within 2 weeks. If joint or cartilage damage is repaired, it’s often necessary to keep weight off the ankle for 4-8 weeks.

What Kind of Rehabilitation Is Needed after Ankle Arthroscopy?

Physical therapy can be initiated as soon as 2 weeks after arthroscopy depending on the condition being treated. If cartilage damage is treated, a period of non weight bearing may be necessary after the procedure before physical therapy can begin.

What Should I Avoid after Ankle Arthroscopy?

Ankle arthroscopy patients should avoid excessive or high impact activities (such as running, sports, etc.) after their procedure in order to permit optimal recovery of the skin and underlying soft tissues in the joint.

When Can I Return to Normal Activities after an Ankle Arthroscopy?

The goal after an ankle arthroscopy is a painless return to activity. This can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks depending on the procedure. In general, patients have positive results after an ankle arthroscopy procedure.

Additional Ankle Arthroscopy FAQs

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about arthroscopic ankle surgery.

Are There Alternatives to Ankle Arthroscopy?

Various conservative alternative treatments can be attempted prior to ankle arthroscopy depending on the patient’s condition. Possible alternative treatments can include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and cortisone injections.

How Does Ankle Arthroscopy Compare to Other Ankle Surgeries?

Because arthroscopy is performed via very small incisions (roughly less than half an inch in length each), ankle arthroscopy generally results in a quicker recovery time, and the procedure is less painful compared to other ankle surgeries. In many cases this procedure can often provide nearly immediate improvement in pain.

Is Ankle Arthroscopy Painful?

Minimal pain is expected with ankle arthroscopy. The nature of the procedure involves two small incisions that heal with a very low incidence of complications. In addition, the surgeons at Alexander Orthopaedics employ different techniques to make recovery more comfortable. These modalities include postoperative anesthetic injection, antiinflammatories, icing, elevating, compression, and other medications. Our experience has shown most patients experience a remarkable improvement in pain almost immediately after their surgery.

Let Alexander Orthopaedics Treat Your Ankle Injury

If you’re suffering from persistent ankle pain, the skilled team at Alexander Orthopaedic Associates can help you determine the cause of your symptoms, and the best next steps for your treatment. For many patients, ankle arthroscopy is an efficient and minimally invasive way to treat your condition and get back on your feet quickly.

Schedule an appointment today to begin your road to increased comfort, function, and mobility.