Arthrodesis is fusion of the bones in the joint completely, making one continuous bone out of two or more bones. The goal of the procedure is to reduce pain by eliminating motion in the arthritic joint.
During arthrodesis, the damaged cartilage is removed and then with use of pins, plates and screws, or rods the joint is fixed in a permanent position. Over time, the bones fuse or grow together, just like two ends of a broken bone grow together as it heals. The pain disappears due to removal of the arthritic joint.
Arthrodesis is typically quite successful, although there can be complications. In some cases, the joint does not fuse together (non-union), and the hardware may break. This can happen if you put weight on your foot before the fusion is complete. While the broken hardware does not cause pain, the non-union of the fusion can lead to pain and swelling. If non-union occurs, a second operation to place bone graft in the joint and place new hardware may be needed. However, repeated fusions are not as likely to be successful, so it is best to closely follow guidelines during the recovery period of the original operation.
In most cases, surgery relieves the pain of arthritis and makes it easier to perform daily activities. Full recovery can take from 4 to 12 months, depending on the severity of your condition before surgery and the complexity of your procedure.
Foot and ankle surgery can be painful. Advancements in pain control now make it easier to manage and relieve pain.
You will most likely have a plaster cast after surgery to limit movement in your foot and ankle and to prevent non-union. To reduce swelling, it is important to keep your foot elevated above the level of your heart for up to 2 weeks after surgery.
Later in the recovery period, physiotherapy may be recommended to help regain strength in your foot or ankle and to restore range of motion.
In most cases, you will be able to resume your daily activities in 3 to 4 months although, for a period of time, you may need to wear supportive shoes or a brace.
A small percentage of patients have problems with wound healing, but these problems can usually be addressed by bracing or by an additional surgery. In some cases, loss of motion in the joint after a fusion causes the joints adjacent to the one fused to bear more stress than they did before the surgery. This can lead to arthritis in the adjacent joints years after the surgery.