Rehabilitation Timeline After Ankle Replacement Surgery

After Ankle Replacement Surgery and in the Hospital

When your surgery is complete, your leg will be elevated and your ankle immobilized in a splint.

Depending on what your surgeon has decided is best for you, you may be allowed to get out of bed, sit in a chair, and start therapy fairly soon after your ankle replacement surgery.

Several days after surgery, the ankle boot or splint may be removed so you can begin the road to recovery with range-of-motion exercises provided by your physical therapist.

Rehabilitation Sessions After Ankle Replacement Surgery

Not all surgeons require that you see a physical therapist after your ankle replacement surgery. In fact, some surgeons may recommend special exercises you can do at home. These may include certain range-of-motion exercises or low-weight bearing activities.

If a physical therapist is recommended, they will teach you about the safest method of getting in and out of a chair and moving around. They will also determine whether it is best for you to use a walker or crutches. After your therapy session, the boot or splint will be reapplied and must be worn 24 hours a day and removed only at exercise time.

If other procedures are performed during your surgery, a plaster splint will be applied, requiring your ankle to be immobile for a longer period of time. If this is the case, your cast will not be removed for two to three weeks and no range-of-motion exercises or dressing changes will occur during this time.

Pain is a normal side effect to any surgery, but it would be unusual for you to use pain medication for more than five to seven days after surgery. However, don't hesitate to talk to your surgeon should you experience discomfort.

You will not be able to put weight on your ankle for the first six weeks after surgery, but this doesn't mean that you will be immobile as long as you learn to use crutches or a walker.

When You Are Discharged from the Hospital

Your hospital stay may last from three to five days, depending on how well you are healing. You will probably need some assistance for several weeks after surgery, so before leaving the hospital, be sure that you have a support system at home.

It is a good idea for a family member or friend to rearrange your furniture so you can maneuver with a walker or crutches. If your bedroom is on the second level, a first-level room may have to pull double duty as your sleeping quarters. And be sure to have a good chair available, one that is firm and has a higher-than-average seat.

The post-operative care period lasts for approximately six weeks. During this time, you will make periodic visits to your surgeon.

Your First Day at Home After Ankle Replacement Surgery

At home, you will need to take some time to adjust. Don't feel guilty about relaxing. When resting, elevate your ankle, preferably above the level of your heart. At night, you should lie on your back with one or more pillows under your splinted ankle.

Feel free to walk as much as you like using crutches or a walker, but be sure not to put any weight on your ankle for the first six weeks after surgery or until the time specified by your surgeon.

Make certain that your ankle incision stays dry and is not draining. If you notice any drainage or foul odor from your incision, contact your surgeon right away. If your temperature reaches above 100.4 degrees or you notice any increased swelling or tenderness, call your surgeon immediately.

The range-of-motion exercises are very important to your recovery so you must do them at least two to three times a day.

How to Cope in the First Week

Using a walker or crutches can become a little frustrating, but you will have it mastered in a few days. Take special care while becoming familiar with the device, and don't become over confident once you get the hang of it. This is when accidents can happen.

You can bathe but special precautions are necessary. Make sure that you protect the ankle from water by wrapping plastic wrap over the dressing.

Once you get home, you should remain active, but, again, don't overdo it. Since each person heals at his or her own rate, it is impossible to know when you will be able to resume your normal activities.

What You Can Expect in the First Month

At eight to 12 days after surgery, you may have your first "post-operative" visit. Your surgeon will exam the ankle and may call for an x-ray evaluation to be sure the healing process is going well. Your sutures will probably be removed two weeks after surgery. You will be seen again at six weeks, and then at three months after surgery. A six-month exam is usually scheduled for new x-rays and an assessment of your progress.

Six Weeks after Surgery and Beyond

For the first six weeks, use crutches and do not put any weight on the affected leg. At the six-week mark, you may begin to gradually put weight on the leg with the use of a cane or walker.

You may be able to begin driving an automatic shift car in six to eight weeks. If you have a manual transmission and your right ankle was operated on, you will not begin to drive for 12 weeks. Again, check with your surgeon.

By 12 weeks, you can begin low impact, weight-bearing activities, such as walking, golfing (with spikeless shoes and cart), and bicycling on level surfaces. Avoid contact sports, weightlifting, and any activity that puts stress on the joint.

Your surgeon may suggest that you use an ankle support for up to one year. And, don't be alarmed by the swelling, which can be expected for up to 12 months.

Last Updated: 10/16/2007