When It’s Time For Ankle Arthrodesis

There comes a point where severe ankle degeneration requires surgery. The joint can wear away over time due to osteoarthritis, overuse, or a persistent injury. Sprains, fractures, and ligament damage can also morph into more severe consequences later. Faced with a difficult choice, some ankle pain sufferers finally decide to get treatment to stop pain long-term. Arthrodesis, or ankle fusion, is a surgical procedure for chronic ankle pain and instability by permanently fusing the bones of the ankle joint. After fusion, many patients are curious to know if activities like jogging are possible after recovery.

Ankle fusion and recovery

Ankle fusion uses incisions to access the joint and remove the damaged joint cartilage. The remaining bones are held in place with metal components like screws, nails, and plates. Sometimes, a bone graft is used to assist with fusion. Over time, the bone grows into a stable, singular unit. Ankle fusion can occur arthroscopically, with small incisions used to access the damaged joint. Recovery starts almost immediately by keeping the foot elevated to heal for at least 10 days. After the surgeon gives the patient clearance, a walking boot is made available for gentle movement. The walking boot is used for at least 3 months, allowing the fusion to occur. A complete ankle fusion can take 6-12 months, depending on the individual.

Can you jog after ankle surgery?

While the procedure is a solution for severe, chronic ankle instability, there is still a question of returning to high-impact activities like jogging. The constant slamming of the feet on the pavement sends repeated forces through the newly fused ankle. Jogging after ankle fusion is possible once the joint is fully healed. Short distances on softer surfaces, like a track, are recommended during the late stages of fusion. After the joint is fully fused, jogging can happen for longer and on different surfaces. There are risks and benefits to jogging with a fused ankle. The cardiovascular health benefits cannot be denied. Exercise also strengthens the ankle. However, repeated stress and possibly decreased range of motion (ROM) may lead to more pain and possible complications, such as arthritis.

Know your limits and choose alternatives

The decision to return to jogging depends on the individual. The activity is available to the patient once the surgery and fusion are successful. However, jogging will depend on the severity of the original ankle condition, healing, and pain levels. The type of procedure used and the past activity levels also play a role in long-term jogging. Some doctors or physiotherapists may recommend alternative activities before returning to jogging. For instance, swimming, cycling, and elliptical machines place less stress on the ankle while providing similar benefits. Over time, the stronger joint will be able to withstand the forces of long-distance running.

Get back on the trail

Studies show that most patients can return to high-impact activities, like jogging, after a minimum of 1 year after surgery. At the same time, the procedure may limit endurance, impact gait, or decrease athletic performance. Thanks to strategies like minimally invasive surgery, however, the reduced damage to the joint helps with a faster return to running. Jogging should only be attempted after a complete recovery, especially after removing the walking boot. Focus on alternatives and gradually resume jogging based on the medical team recommendations.