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Ankle Replacement Surgery

I tend to receive a lot of junk RA and health-related mail in my email inbox, which I usually skim over and then send right to the “Trash” folder. A couple days ago, however, I was surprised to see an email that I wanted to actually read in its entirety and investigate further. The subject–ankle replacement surgery–could very well impact my own ankle and life.

Severe RA pain in ankles

Angela’s Annoying Ankle Saga (or whatever you want to call it) has been a maddening, never-ending story since April 2005, when both ankles suddenly became swollen and unbearably painful while I was on a trip visiting my sister in Spain. After high doses of prednisone, round-the-clock icing, wrapping/bandaging, and rest helped my left ankle shrink back to normal (more or less), the right one decided to stubbornly remain swollen and debilitatingly painful. Why? Who knows. I certainly wish I did.

I’ve written about my frustrations with my “bad” right ankle and the two failed arthroscopic ankle surgeries (synovectomies) on it several times over the years, yet sadly the “ankle story” remains the same–it’s an apparently unsolvable (and untreatable?) mystery. But, maybe, just maybe, this little press release that found its way to my email address the other day could be a new sliver of hope?

Ankle replacement for RA

The email was from Loyola University Medical Center (a.k.a. Loyola Medicine) and tells the story of patient Nancy MacFarland who had successful ankle replacement surgery after several other treatments didn’t help alleviate her pain.

You can read the press release here: Ankle Replacement Surgery Enables Loyola Patient to Walk Again Without Pain

“This story about Mrs. MacFarland and her severely painful, arthritic ankle sounds hopeful for others who suffer from ankle pain with little to no relief (like me). However, the mention of “bone-on-bone” arthritis makes me wonder if her pain was caused by osteoarthritis and not rheumatoid. And if so, then how would this surgery apply to me? Could it also help? Are RA patients good candidates for ankle replacements instead of ankle fusions?”1

Like the press release mentions about the ineffectiveness of corticosteroid injections, all of the steroid shots I’ve had over the years have never helped my ankle–even when I had one guided by ultrasound (fluoroscopically-guided injection). I’ve also tried several types of braces and wraps and tapes yet nothing works. Expensive, custom-made orthotic inserts for my shoes also didn’t help.

After seeing rheumatologists, many orthopedic foot and ankle specialists (some out of state), a podiatrist, and several physical therapists during the last 10+ years, I have basically admitted defeat–well, at least for right now. I feel stuck and abandoned and unsure of what to do. However, I still hope and wish and pray so much that something can be finally discovered to help my ankle. Maybe this little email that almost got sent to my “Trash” folder will help lead me down a real road to recovery and healing. I hope so.

In the past, no doctor would agree to fusing my ankle because I’m “too young” and it’s technically a “healthy” joint; no damage shows up on any of my MRI and X-ray scans all of these years. Great, no damage! But why can’t we get this stubborn thing calmed down and under control? The option of ankle replacement surgery never seriously crossed my mind before because I’ve been so adamantly told “no” to having it fused by every ankle surgeon I’ve seen. I can’t believe that I’m expected to just put up with this constant debilitating pain for the rest of my life. The idea of another surgery is frightening, but I want so much to get my mobility back that I’m willing to go under the knife again if it will actually help.

Ankle fusion vs ankle replacement for RA

What do you think? Have you had your ankle fused or replaced? Should I give Loyola a call? Should I give my ankle surgeon (who has seemingly given up on me now) a call? I’ve put so much time and effort and emotion into trying to find out the truth of what’s going on with this joint and how to treat it that I don’t know who or what to trust anymore. The only thing that remains clear and constant, day and night, is the pain. The pain is real.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.



  • JJ
    2 years ago

    Angela, in 1995 I had a subtalar arthrodesis (fusion) of my very painful rheimatoid arthritis left foot. This surgery included numerous titanium screws and staples which remain today. It took a full year to recover & walk on it comfortably. I was delighted! Finally no pain However the arthrodesis placed pressure on the mid-foot & as a result my left foot required a second fusion and yet another year again recovering. Do I regret it? ABSOLUTELY NOT as for the last 22 years i have had no pain, complete stability and assurance that I made the right decision! Now I am 68 years of age & my right foot is badly damaged from RA, and recently diagnosed as bone on bone and with many hairline fractures. The answer is a fusion but I am now 22 years older than when I had the first surgery, am stage 4 RA. Plus due to losing my disability at the age of 65 which happens to everyone I cannot afford to take off work to have the surgery and time needed to recover. If it is any help to you at all I would definitely recommend to have it fused or Replaced. Very happy that I did! Joanne

  • Carla Kienast
    2 years ago

    Angela: My life philosophy has generally been that it never hurts to have the conversation. At least then you’ll have the information you need to make a decision. Having had three joint replacements I will caution you that my doctors had to demonstrate irreversible joint damage to justify all three replacements to get insurance coverage. However, with your history of failed previous treatments, you very well could be a qualified candidate. It’s a question you should ask your doctor. I know how much this has plagued your life and I am hopeful this might finally be the answer. Please keep us posted.

  • melbro3
    2 years ago

    I had an ankle replacement in 2006. I was 49. I was told they could replace it or fuse it. I opted for the replacement so I could have better motion. I must say that it is a surgery that I hope I never have to have again. It took about 6 months to fully recover. The first six weeks I could not put any weight on it. Then it was therapy to walk normal again. Was it worth it! Yes! I don’t have any of the pain that I had before. I have good range of motion and as long as I don’t completely overdo I am good. It was so hard initially but I’m very glad I did it.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    With my ankle now held together with tow brackets and 7 screws, I get what a hurting ankle means. Should you call? Of course. Call immediately. I mean calls are cheap, not much to lose in a telephone call.

  • Tiptoetammy17
    2 years ago

    I never knew they did ankle replacement that’s cool my ankhs barley move one is very than the other. I’d better but my knee don’t straighten sip I walk on toes. Have a good day

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