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Ankle Arthrotomy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What do I need to know about ankle arthrotomy?

Ankle arthrotomy is surgery to make an opening into the ankle joint. This allows your surgeon to see into the ankle joint directly. He or she may use this surgery to examine, drain, clean, or repair your ankle joint.

Heel, toes, ankle

How do I prepare for surgery?

  • Your surgeon will tell you how to prepare. He or she may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight before surgery. Arrange to have someone drive you home when you are discharged from the hospital.
  • Tell your surgeon about all medicines you currently take. He or she will tell you if you need to stop any medicine for surgery, and when to stop. He or she will tell you which medicines to take or not take on the day of surgery.
  • Antibiotics may be given to help prevent a bacterial infection. Anesthesia will be used to numb the surgery area to prevent pain during surgery. Tell your surgeon if you have had an allergic reaction to antibiotics or anesthesia.

What will happen during surgery?

  • General anesthesia may be given to keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. Regional or local anesthesia may instead be given to numb the surgery area. Your surgeon will make one or more incisions.
  • Your surgeon may take tissue samples to be tested for diseases. The joint may need to be drained. A tumor or pieces of bone or cartilage may be removed. An ankle fracture or other injury may be repaired.
  • The incision or incisions will be closed with stitches. A splint, cast, or walking boot may be applied. The device will depend on the reason you had an ankle arthrotomy.

What should I expect after surgery?

  • You may need to use crutches to keep some weight off your foot. You may instead wear a splint, cast, or walking boot for a few weeks. These protect your ankle by keeping it stable and preventing movement while it heals.
  • You will be given instructions for activities to avoid for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. The instructions will include when it is okay to put weight on your foot or play sports again.
  • Physical therapy may be started after the splint, cast, or boot is removed. A physical therapist can help you strengthen your ankle and improve mobility and flexibility.

What are the risks of ankle arthrotomy?

You may develop a serious joint infection called septic arthritis. You may develop a life-threatening blood clot. Nerves in your ankle may be damaged. You may have chronic joint stiffness or pain. Scar tissue may form, or you may develop a contracture (shortening) of your ankle ligaments. You may not be able to move your ankle as well as you could before surgery.

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You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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