Can An Allograft Help Restore Movement And Ease Pain For Your Badly-Healed Ankle?

If you broke your ankle a number of years ago and are still dealing with chronic pain, stiffness, and reduction in your range of motion, you may be wondering whether there's anything you can do to ease these symptoms going forward short of taking prescription painkillers or simply avoiding putting weight on your injured ankle. Unlike knees and other "hinge"-shaped joints, the complexity of the ankle joint often makes it a poor candidate for replacement surgery. However, some more recent advances in medical and surgical technology may offer an alternative that can bring you significant relief for years to come. Read on to learn more about ankle allografts to help you decide whether this is a procedure you'd like to pursue. 

Why isn't ankle replacement surgery usually a good option?

With the Baby Boomers continuing to approach Social Security age and younger generations pursuing more extreme sports and competitions than those before them, the number of joint replacement surgeries has skyrocketed in recent years. Each year, orthopedic surgeons perform about 600,000 knee replacement surgeries. Hip replacement surgeries are also common among older patients who have suffered a fall or otherwise injured this joint. 

However, the ankle is a much more complex joint than the knee or hip -- and because it bears the majority of your body's weight, replacing it with a mechanical device can often cause more problems than it solves. Even with the significant advances in joint replacement technology surgeons have enjoyed over the past few years, developing a working artificial ankle has been a challenge. 

One common way to treat ankle problems in years past was to "fuse" the bones together, preventing them from moving or flexing in a way that could cause pain. Unfortunately for many patients, this also caused a limp and prevented them from engaging in low-impact activities like bicycling or even swimming, making this truly an option of last resort. 

How can an allograft help treat your chronic ankle problems? 

An allograft is different from an artificial replacement joint in that it is composed entirely of cadaver bone and tissue, rather than metal and plastic. Before the allograft surgery takes place, the cadaver ankle joint is removed from the cadaver, cleaned, and sterilized. Your surgeon will then remove the damaged portion of your ankle joint, or even the entire joint if you've suffered severe damage, replacing this joint with the undamaged allograft and carefully reattaching all nerves and tendons. Depending upon the extent of the surgery and the amount of replacement tissue needed, your surgeon may use several surgical pins or screws to make sure the joint stays put until the healing process has completed. 

While you're healing from surgery, the bone tissue attached to the allograft will be enveloped by your own bone tissue in a process known as osseointegration. After a few months and the removal of any remaining surgical steel, an X-ray of your ankle allograft will look just like a normal X-ray and won't reveal the presence of an "artificial" joint.

Are you a good candidate for this surgery?

If your joint pain is significantly interfering with your ability to perform normal daily activities -- walking, driving, or even sitting for long periods -- and other treatment options haven't provided relief, you may want to talk to an orthopedic surgeon about an allograft. Those who are in good physical shape and have no potentially complicating medical conditions are likely to be good candidates for this surgery. On the other hand, those with autoimmune conditions like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may find that an allograft triggers a severe immune response, while those with diabetes may have trouble with the healing process. 

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