Ankle arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used by orthopedic surgeons to diagnose and repair issues within the ankle joint. Because arthroscopy does not require large incisions typical of traditional surgery, it has increasingly become the procedure of choice and is the most frequently performed orthopedic ankle procedure done today.
The word arthroscopy comes to us from two separate Greek words, arthro, meaning “having to do with the joint” and skopein, which means “to look”. Combined, arthro-skopein, or arthroscopy, describes the process in which someone is able “to look within the joint”.
Arthroscopy for diagnostic purposes is typically done with a very small incision and a miniature camera. This allows the surgeon to actually see what kinds of issues are affecting the joint and to be able to determine the best type of treatment.
In today’s world, the ability to look inside the joint may sound deceptively simple and be something we are tempted to take for granted. This was not always the case. Not all that long ago, any type of exploratory surgery would have required one or more large incisions, often cutting through, not simply the skin covering the area, but also tendons, muscles, and other types of tissue surrounding the joint. In the past, recovery from the diagnostic procedure, alone, could be unpleasant.
Ankle Anatomy and Vulnerability
The ankle is not only a weight-bearing joint, but it is also very complex. The bones in the lower leg, the tibia, and fibula, come together with the talus in the foot, which is the bone that is located right above the heel bone. The lower ends of the tibia and fibula form the joint socket and the talus fits inside, surrounded, and bound together with a protective arrangement of ligaments and tendons.
The ankle joint is a hinge joint, which is what makes it possible for there to be such a wide range of motion and flexibility. This design is responsible for allowing the foot to be moved away from the body, which is referred to as plantar flexion, and toward the body, which is dorsiflexion. In addition, the ankle joint is capable of side-to-side movement, which gives us the ability to make a twisting motion.
Despite the fact that the ankle joint is extremely strong, its complexity, coupled with the fact that is weight-bearing and often called upon to make sudden or forceful changes in direction, makes it highly susceptible to injury. When this happens, arthroscopy is often used to determine the nature and extent of the problem.
Ankle Arthroscopy for Diagnosis and Treatment
With ankle arthroscopy, orthopedic surgeons are able to use tiny instruments, guided by a miniature camera that displays images onto a large computer screen, to accurately diagnose and treat a wide range of problems. Issues and injuries affecting the ankle joint are common and the result of a variety of causes. Some of the more common causes of ankle pain and impaired function that arthroscopy is used to diagnose and treat include:
- Trauma or injury, resulting from a blow or sudden movement or change in direction
- Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, which is an age-related form of arthritis
- Scar tissue
- Osteochondral lesions of the talus, which are injuries of the cartilage that covers the talus bone and are common with ankle sprains
- Bone spurs
- Chips or loose bone fragments
- Cartilage or ligament damage
Ankle Arthroscopy Procedure
Ankle arthroscopy is typically done on an outpatient basis and the purpose may be for diagnostic purposes, alone, or the repair may also be performed at the same time. The patient will be given general anesthesia for the procedure.
A tiny incision is made to provide access for a miniature, fiber-optic video camera called an arthroscope, and another, equally small incision is made through which the surgeon will insert specially-designed surgical instruments. The camera displays the area and guides the surgeon as repairs are made to damaged tissue or bone fragments are removed.
Treating osteochondral lesions of the talus or tibia is one of the more common conditions addressed with ankle arthroscopy. Microfracture, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or bone marrow aspirate may be involved as part of the treatment.
Every surgery is different and the amount of time that it will require will depend upon the extent of the damage or problem. That said, ankle arthroscopy typically takes less than an hour, and the patient is able to go home that day.
Recovery Following Ankle Arthroscopy
One of the benefits of an arthroscopic procedure is that, due to its minimally invasive nature, there is far less trauma to surrounding muscles and tissue. Smaller incisions also mean less bleeding and scarring. All of this translates to a shorter and less painful recovery period following ankle arthroscopy than what has been the norm with traditional ankle joint surgery.
Ankle arthroscopy has a very high success rate. To ensure the best outcome, all post-surgery instructions should be followed. This will include avoiding strenuous exercise and activities for about six weeks.
Contact Christopher E. Hubbard, MD Today
If you require an ankle arthroscopy to diagnose or treat your ankle issue, or if you have any questions regarding the procedure, it essential to contact an experienced and knowledgeable orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible. Dr. Hubbard has the necessary training and experience to provide you with the treatment you need. Contact our office today to get started.