Ankle joint distraction is a surgical alternative in younger patients with advanced ankle arthritis. It is typically not a definative treatment but used instead to ‘buy time’ for patients who are too young for an ankle replacement or fusion. Clinical shows have shown that the majority of patients who have this procedure experience a progressive improvement of function and relief of pain that continues to improve with time.
The surgery involves placing pins in the leg and the foot and mechanically distracting (pulling apart) the joint surfaces to allow them a chance to heal. Usually an arthroscopy of the ankle is done at the same time to remove any spurs or fragments of debris in the joint.
After the distraction surgery, patients are admitted to the hospital for a few days and then allowed to go home putting weight on their foot with the help of crutches or a walker. Within a few weeks most patients can walk with their ankle distracted with little discomfort. After three months the fixator frame is removed and patients start a rehabilitation program to regain muscle strength and balance and improve function.