Plan ahead where you can

Plan aheadBecause ankle replacement surgery is usually scheduled well in advance, you have a chance to learn about what’s going to happen and to plan ahead for your operation and rehabilitation.  Here’s what you should know:

  • Once you know you are scheduled for surgery, it is important to take steps to ensure the smoothest possible recovery.  Get enough rest, eat well and stay as active as you can. It would be helpful to see a physiotherapist familiar with ankle replacement who can advise you about how to prepare for your surgery and rehabilitation.
  • Expect to stay in the hospital for at least one to two days after your operation and to be non-weight-bearing for at least two to three weeks—that is, you won’t be allowed to put any weight on the affected leg and foot). At some hospitals which are equipped with special pain pumps, patients are able to go home (with supervision) on the same day as their surgery.
  • Most people who have this surgery go home to recover and don’t need in-hospital rehabilitation. Instead, you will likely have a physiotherapist visit you at home or you’ll be expected to go for rehabilitation as an out-patient.  Your surgeon will discuss your needs based on your overall age and health and your current living situation (i.e., whether you live alone).
  • Although it’s likely that you’ll be able to walk with crutches or a walker by the time you leave the hospital, you may not be completely independent. You’ll need help showering, changing bed linens, doing laundry, shopping, taking out the garbage and preparing meals. Arrange for help from family, friends or hire someone to help you with these tasks. If you need to pay bills or do regular banking, try to get this done in advance of your surgery or arrange to bank online.
  • You won’t be able to drive for a while after the operation, especially if you’ve had surgery to your right ankle (your driving foot). Arrange for someone to drive you to and from the hospital and for follow-up appointments (see Getting Back to Normal—Driving and car travel).
  • If you have pets or plants, arrange for family members or friends to care for them while you’re in the hospital and during your recovery period.
  • If you live alone, call to stop delivery of your mail and newspapers, or ask someone to collect them until you return.
  • This is a good time to re-arrange your house or apartment so it will be easier and safer for you to get around after your operation (see Preparing For Your Surgery—Start getting your home ready)
  • If you live alone, make a list of people you can call in case of an emergency or if you suddenly find you need help.
  • If you don’t already have one, buy or borrow a cordless telephone that you can carry with you after surgery. This will make it easier for you to make and receive phone calls while you’re staying off your foot.
  • Learn about what kind of assistive devices you will need after the operation. If possible, rent or purchase crutches, a walker and/or a cane before the surgery and practice using them. This will make it easier when you return home.
  • Start making a list of What to bring to the hospital
  • Joint replacement surgery is very safe for most people. Even so, this is a good time to review your legal documents, including your will and any advanced health directive or power of attorney documents.
  • This is a good time to start doing some pre-operative exercises aimed mainly at strengthening your arms and shoulders to help you cope with crutches or a walker after surgery. Other exercises are designed to help you maintain the strength of your leg muscles and to ensure that you’re breathing properly. Speak to a member of the surgical care team or your family doctor who may be able to provide you with instructions or referral to a physiotherapist.
  • Your surgeon may have a clinic that he will send you to where trained physiotherapists and other health care workers can help you prepare for your surgery.
  • This is also a good time to shop for items you’ll need after your operation. Make sure you have a short bathrobe and several pairs of loose-fitting pants with an elastic waistband (but WITHOUT elastic around the ankles). Some athletic pants have zippers at the ankle which helps accommodate a bulky cast. 
  • The single most important item to buy is a pair of shoes that will support both your foot and your ankle joint once you begin putting weight on the affected leg (see How a foot specialist can help). Be aware that shoes which feel comfortable before surgery may not be the best kind to wear after your operation.