An ankle arthroscopy gets its name from the tool that the doctor uses to perform the procedure. An arthroscope is a small camera that the doctor inserts into a small incision to help examine the tissue from the inside. The benefit of this is that the doctor is not required to make larger cuts in the ankle in order to see the damaged area. This means that pain is reduced, unnecessary complications are avoided, and recovery times are greatly shortened.
An ankle arthroscopy can be the best treatment or survey option for a variety of conditions, though it is most commonly used in the case of ligament repair and debris removal. Anesthesia can be either general or local depending on what the doctor recommends, and it typically only requires a couple of stitches to close up post op. Because of this scarring is minimal and the risk of infection is very low.
Two common conditions that can benefit from an ankle arthroscopy are osteochondral defect (OCD) and synovitis.
Ankle Arthroscopy for Osteochondral Defects (OCD)
OCD refers to an area in the ankle joint that contains both damaged cartilage and bone, often as a result of repeat trauma or injury. This is typically seen in the bone at the bottom of the ankle joint called the talus. This bone receives a limited supply of blood compared to other bones in the body and as a result it has trouble healing on its own. If you have a sprain or fracture in this area and notice that the pain persists longer than normal or recovery remains incomplete after physical therapy, an OCD may be the reason. OCDs can be difficult to diagnose on your own and will likely require a doctor’s examination to diagnose properly.
Ankle Arthroscopy for Synovitis
Synovial tissue is the soft tissue that lines the ankle joint, if a traumatic or overuse injury occurs this tissue can become inflamed or otherwise damaged leading to pain and swelling of the ankle. This is referred to as synovitis. Excessive inflammation can lead to fluid buildup in the joint which can result in even more damage and instability in the ankle. If no injury has occurred but synovitis is still present arthritis may be the culprit.
If the doctor performs the arthroscopy and determines that the damage is too severe, they may choose to perform an open surgery instead. This is the preferred option in cases with a large area of damage because it gives the doctor better access to the damaged tissues. It is important to note that an arthroscope can be a limiting factor in certain cases, and if your doctor decides to advance to an open surgery, it is only to help them provide the best treatment possible.
When general anesthesia is going to be used during the procedure (meaning you are put to sleep while being operated on) you will need to arrange a ride home as you will be unable to safely operate a vehicle. This will be discussed before scheduling the surgery so you will have time to prepare for it.
Recovery after an ankle arthroscopy depends on the extent of the work that was done while inside the ankle. If the arthroscopy was performed to simply survey the damage, you will likely be given a small splint to help stabilize the ankle while the incision heals. If any other treatment or repairs were performed the recovery options include:
- An ankle immobilizer (a sturdier brace that you keep on throughout the day)
- Crutches to keep weight off the injured foot
- A cast if the procedure was more severe
- Physical therapy to increase the likelihood of a full recovery
As is the case with all surgeries, listen to your doctor’s instructions regarding rehabilitation and don’t attempt to rush the process or skip steps. Multiple follow up appointments will likely be scheduled to help track the progress of your recovery.
If you have questions about a recent injury of your own or a past injury that has not healed properly we recommend you schedule an appointment with Vincent J. Inglima, DPM at The Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute. Dr. Inglima will help determine the best treatment option going forward. Please contact us for an appointment.