If your surgery and rehabilitation have gone well, you should be coping well with most activities between three and six months after your ankle replacement surgery. But it’s quite normal to experience a certain amount of pain and swelling for longer than that. This can be frustrating, but be patient: in most cases, the disabling pain and swelling in your ankle which led you to have the surgery should begin to ease.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you get used to living with your new ankle joint:
Your physical therapist will prescribe certain post-operative exercises. The goal is to prevent or decrease swelling, to improve your flexibility, to increase your strength and endurance, to improve your balance and coordination and to make it easier for you to carry out normal daily activities.
Improving flexibility - Exercises that will help improve flexibility of your ankle usually involve active movement and stretching. Stretching the muscles in the back of your calf (lower leg) may be done while sitting or while standing (if weight bearing is allowed).
Strengthening and stability - The goal of these exercises is to help you regain strength in the muscles around the ankle and also in your affected leg, your trunk, your other leg and both your arms. These may be done with you seated (at first), using a “rocker board” under your affected foot. Some physiotherapists also use resistance training which involves the use of special elastic bands or tubing. If you have ready access to a swimming pool and if your surgeon says it’s safe, water exercises may be added into your overall program.
Increasing your endurance - The goal here is to help muscles in your legs, back, trunk and arms work more effectively over longer periods of time. Your physiotherapist may suggest you start pedaling on a recumbent bicycle (the type where you lean backwards in the seat). As you recover, you may progress to a treadmill or a step machine, and finally to walking outdoors for longer and longer periods of time.
Weight-bearing exercises - These involve having you shift your weight from side to side and front to back and to stay balanced as the therapist tries to gently upset your balance. Other movements may involve rising up on your toes, going up and down ramps and curbs, climbing stairs, and balancing on a rocker or balance board while standing.
Balance and coordination - As long as you’ve been cleared to bear full weight on your new ankle joint, you may be asked to balance on one leg with your eyes open and closed and to walk on uneven or softer surfaces.
Here are some general guidelines about how to carry out common activities after ankle replacement surgery. Your therapist can give you more specific advice based on your overall health, how well you have recovered so far, your weight and height and more.
Secure your stair railings at home. Limit your stair climbing to one round trip per day if possible and always hold onto the railing to keep your balance.
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