Deciding to Have Foot and Ankle Surgery

Your surgeon may suggest trying the following things before considering surgery for your foot or ankle problem:

  • wearing different shoes
  • losing weight or maintaining a healthy body weight
  • changing your hobbies or sporting activities
  • wearing orthotics
  • working with a physiotherapist
  • using a walking aid (such as cane)
  • taking medicine

If surgery is determined to be your best option, your surgery is done by an Orthopedic Surgeon or an Operative Podiatrist. These doctors have special training to do surgery on bones, muscles, and ligaments.

During your first visit to the surgeon:

You are asked questions about your health, including:

  • problems with other joints
  • medicine that you already take
  • allergies
  • previous illness

The surgeon checks your foot and ankle for:

  • pain and/or swelling
  • open sores (ulcers)
  • range of motion (how much you can move your joints)
  • bone and joint alignment (how the bones and joints line up)
  • strength & stability

If you have not already had x-rays taken of your foot and ankle, this might be done to get more information about your foot and ankle problem.

Will surgery help?

Your surgeon only suggests surgery if there is a good chance the surgery will make you better than you are right now.

Surgery might help to:

  • reduce pain (the main reason for most people)
  • improve the way your bones come together and your joints line up
  • make it easier for you to do things like walking, standing, bathing or getting dressed
  • reduce problems that could happen in the future
  • treat infection
  • treat foot ulcers caused by diabetes, if the ulcer is not healing on its own

Most of the time, these surgeries go well and people slowly get better. How long it takes to get better depends on your health and the kind of surgery you had. Usually by 3 months after your surgery, you will be able to move around without too much difficulty. By 6 months after your surgery (for most surgeries), your foot or ankle problem should feel better than it did before the surgery. Everyone heals differently, so don’t worry if you are healing slowly as long as things are getting better. After a major foot or ankle surgery, it can take up to a year to fully recover.

Before you decide whether surgery is an option for you, think about the time it takes to recover, how your activities might be limited, as well as the possible problems that may occur.

Minor Foot and Ankle Surgery

Examples of minor surgery:

  • Ankle arthroscopy
  • Some bunion surgeries
  • Surgery to remove hardware such as pins or screws used in a previous surgery

Minor surgery has a shorter healing period than major surgery.

After minor surgery you might be allowed to stand and walk on the foot as soon as 1 to 14 days after your surgery. Your surgeon will let you know when you can put weight through your foot. Your surgeon will tell you if physiotherapy is required after your surgery and when to begin.

Major Foot and Ankle Surgery

Examples of major surgery:

  • Ankle replacement
  • Fusion of arthritic joints in the foot and ankle
  • Bunion surgery
  • Toe deformity surgery
  • Tendon transfers (moving a tendon from one place and sewing it onto to a different place)

It takes longer to fully recover from major foot and ankle surgery.

You are usually in the hospital for one or two nights after major foot or ankle surgery. You might not be allowed to put any weight through the foot for up to 6 weeks or longer.